One statue at a time, activists reclaim India’s looted cultural heritage

A statue of Buddha is seen on March 30, 2007, at the Grand Palais Museum in Paris as part of the exhibition 'L'âge d'or de l'art classique.' (Classical art golden period). (File/AFP)
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A statue of Buddha is seen on March 30, 2007, at the Grand Palais Museum in Paris as part of the exhibition 'L'âge d'or de l'art classique.' (Classical art golden period). (File/AFP)
One statue at a time, activists reclaim India’s looted cultural heritage
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A picture taken on Oct. 24, 2012, at the Petit Palais in Paris, shows a 11th-century bronze Nataraja Siva from India, shown during the exhibition 'Dieux, mode d'emploi.' (File/AFP)
One statue at a time, activists reclaim India’s looted cultural heritage
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A 1,200-year-old Buddha statue that was looted from the Devisthan Kundalpur Temple in Bihar, India. (Photo courtesy: India Pride Project)
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Updated 05 March 2022

One statue at a time, activists reclaim India’s looted cultural heritage

A statue of Buddha is seen on March 30, 2007, at the Grand Palais Museum in Paris as part of the exhibition 'L'âge d'or de l'art classique.' (Classical art golden period). (File/AFP)
  • The country’s efforts to retrieve missing artifacts have ramped up since 2014
  • Volunteers do background research and track missing treasures worldwide

NEW DELHI: Three recent recoveries of ancient statues stolen from Indian heritage sites have put a spotlight on the country’s hunt for looted artifacts, with the government and activists vowing to increase efforts to bring missing treasures home.

Many artifacts were looted from Indian temples and religious pilgrimage sites during colonial times.

After India’s independence from British rule in 1947, they continued to fall victim to theft, forcing the country to enact a law banning the export of any sort of archaeological objects and granting archeological sites state ownership in 1972.

Despite the law, 50,000 statues and artifacts had been stolen and sold abroad according to UNESCO estimates from the late 1980s.

The current number is likely to be much higher.

Efforts to retrieve them have increased since 2014, and hundreds have been returned to their place of origin.

The most recent artifact repatriations were of a 10th century goat-headed Yogini sculpture from England, a 1,200-year-old Buddha relic discovered in Italy, and a 14th century Hanuman idol found in Australia.

“Since 2014, we have recovered more than 300 artifacts,” S. Vijay Kumar, who has been tracing lost Indian heritage since 2004, told Arab News this week.

Kumar founded the volunteer-run India Pride Project in 2014 to do background research on, catalogue, and track missing Indian artifacts worldwide.

His book, “The Idol Thief,” is a true account of events surrounding heritage theft, describing the story of now-jailed Indian American art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who specialized in selling antiquities from across India and Southeast Asia to museums around the world.

Kumar’s volunteer group was involved in finding the three recently recovered statues.

The Buddha statue had gone missing in early 2000 from its altar at one of India’s most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites, the Devisthan Kundalpur Temple in Bihar.

It was received by the Consulate General of India in Milan in February.

The Yogini sculpture vanished from a temple in Lokhari, Uttar Pradesh around 40 years ago and was discovered in England in 1988 on the London art market.

It was returned to Indian authorities in December.

The bronze Hanuman statue was stolen from Vellore, Tamil Nadu, in 2012. Last week, it was handed over to the Indian High Commission in Canberra.

“The whole idea of India’s Pride Project is to restore India’s pride, because our idols are being stolen and being auctioned blatantly, which I feel impacts India’s pride,” Kumar said.

“There should be strict laws dealing specifically with the theft of antiques and the local police should be interested in lodging cases when heritage is stolen.”

Christopher A. Marinello, a London-based lawyer and the founder of Art Recovery International, who specializes in tracking down looted and stolen art and has been cooperating with Kumar since the early 2000s, told Arab News that art recovery work was his “way of giving back.”

He said: “I have been to India and feel overwhelmed by its culture and people and I feel that if I can help in bringing India’s cultural heritage home, I will do it.”

The investigation to track down the Buddhist idol recovered from Italy took him and Kumar several years.

“My team and I managed to track it down and reach the actual possessor of (the) sculpture, and we presented him the evidence of it being looted from India, and he cooperated,” Marinello said.

“The owner realized that things are changing in the market, and it is no longer acceptable to own the cultural heritage of another nation.”

The recent return of the three artifacts, in which Kumar and Marinello were involved, was discussed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his radio program “Mann ki Baat” last week. “It is our responsibility towards Mother India to bring home these idols,” Modi said.

“These idols embody a part of the soul of India. Faith as well. They also have a cultural-historical significance. Realizing this responsibility, India increased her efforts.”


9 Russian planes destroyed in ‘first Ukraine attack’ on Crimea

9 Russian planes destroyed in ‘first Ukraine attack’ on Crimea
Updated 30 sec ago

9 Russian planes destroyed in ‘first Ukraine attack’ on Crimea

9 Russian planes destroyed in ‘first Ukraine attack’ on Crimea
  • Strike on occupied territory is major escalation
  • Kyiv officially silent but military say ‘it was us’

KYIV: Ukraine’s air force said on Wednesday that nine Russian warplanes were destroyed in a deadly string of explosions at an air base in Crimea, amid speculation of a Ukrainian attack that would be a significant escalation in the war.

Russia denied any aircraft were damaged in Tuesday’s blasts, or that an attack even took place. But Ukrainian officials mocked Russia’s explanation that a careless smoker might have caused ammunition at the Saki air base to catch fire and blow up. Analysts also said that explanation made no sense and that the Ukrainians could have used anti-ship missiles to strike the base.

“Officially Kyiv has kept mum about it, but unofficially the military acknowledges that it was a Ukrainian strike,” military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said.

If Ukrainian forces were responsible for the blasts, it would be the first known major attack on a Russian military site on the Crimean Peninsula, which was seized from Ukraine by the Kremlin in 2014.

Crimea holds huge strategic and symbolic significance for both sides. The Kremlin’s demand that Ukraine recognize the peninsula as part of Russia has been one of its key conditions for ending the fighting, while Ukraine has vowed to drive the Russians out of all occupied territories.
After the blasts, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea — its liberation.”

The explosions, which killed one person and injured 14, sent tourists fleeing in panic as plumes of smoke rose over the coastline near by. Video showed shattered windows and holes in the brickwork of some buildings.
One visitor, Natalia Lipovaya, said: “The earth was gone from under my feet … I was so scared.” Sergey Milochinsky, a local resident, recalled hearing a roar and seeing a mushroom cloud from his window. "Everything began to fall around, collapse,” he said.
The base on the Black Sea peninsula is at least 200 kilometers from the closest Ukrainian position and beyond the range of missiles supplied by the West for use in HIMARS launchers.
Ukraine has repeatedly asked for longer-range missiles for HIMARS that can strike targets up to 300 kilometers away. The explosions raised speculation that it had finally obtained them.
Zhdanov said Ukrainian forces could also have struck the air base with Neptune or Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said simultaneous blasts in two places at the base probably ruled out an accidental fire, but not sabotage or a missile attack. “The Kremlin has little incentive to accuse Ukraine of conducting strikes that caused the damage since such strikes would demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Russian air defense systems,” it said.


42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks

42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks
Updated 44 min 26 sec ago

42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks

42 Malian soldiers killed in suspected jihadist attacks
  • Drones artillery used in attack, one of the bloodiest in Mali’s decade-long insurgency

BAMAKO, Mali: Forty-two Malian soldiers died in a sophisticated weekend attack by suspected jihadists using drones artillery, authorities said Wednesday, the latest violent incident to rock the troubled Sahel country.
The toll is one of the bloodiest in Mali’s decade-long insurgency, which has spread from the north of the country to the center and south and into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
A document naming the dead was authenticated to AFP by several senior military officials, while the government later confirmed the toll in a statement that said 22 soldiers were injured and 37 “terrorists” were neutralized.
The attack occurred on Sunday in the town of Tessit, in the troubled “three-border” region where the frontiers of the three nations converge.
On Monday, the army had said 17 soldiers and four civilians had died. Relatives of the victims, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that some of the civilians had been elected officials.
Monday’s statement pointed the finger of blame at the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), saying its members had deployed “drone and artillery support and (used) explosives and an explosives-laden vehicle.”
The last time Mali’s armed forces sustained such losses was in a string of attacks in the same region in late 2019 and early 2020.
Hundreds of soldiers were killed in assaults on nearly a dozen bases, typically carried out by highly mobile fighters on motorbikes.
The raids prompted the Malian, Nigerien and Burkinabe forces to fall back from forward bases and hunker down in better-defended locations.
In January 2020, France and its Sahel allies agreed on a push against the ISGS at a summit in Pau, southwestern France.
Several of its leaders were targeted and killed, including its founder, Abu Walid Al-Sahraoui, but local people say the group has continued to recruit and carry out its operations.

Tessit is one of the hotspots in the three-border area.
The ISGS is fighting for control of the strategic, gold-rich area against an Al-Qaeda-linked alliance, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM).
In March 2021, 33 soldiers were killed in an ISGS-claimed ambush as units were being rotated, and in February this year, around 40 civilians — suspected by the ISGS of being in league with Al-Qaeda — were massacred.
Mobile phone connections to the area have been frequently cut over the last few years and physical access is hard, especially during the mid-year rainy season.
Thousands have fled Tessit to the nearest large town, Gao, which is located some 150 kilometers (90 miles) to the north.
Across the Sahel, the jihadist campaign has claimed thousands of lives and forced more than two million to flee their homes.
Sporadic cross-border attacks have also occurred in Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin to the south, amplifying fears of a jihadist push toward the Gulf of Guinea.


Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together
Updated 10 August 2022

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together
  • Social media full of praise for family duo from Kerala
  • They applied and prepared together for Public Service Commission exams

NEW DELHI: A mother and son from Kerala made national headlines and the rounds on social media in India on Wednesday after clearing civil service exams together.

Nedumkalathil Bindu, 42, and Vivek Ottupara, 24, from the Malappuram district in the southwestern Indian state, have studied together to take the Public Service Commission’s examination.

The mother’s test results for Last Grade Servants were announced in late July with the rank of 92, while her son for Lower Divisional Clerk came out last week with the rank of 38.  

For Bindu, who for the past 10 years has been involved in rural social work, it was a third attempt at the test. And the third time proved to be the charm.

“I have been trying to clear this exam since 2014,” she told Arab News over the phone from Malappuram.

The exam is conducted every three years. After failing twice, Bindu joined hands with her son, who had completed his degree in geography in 2019.

“I used to go to the Prateeksha coaching center in the Areekode area of Malappuram,” she said. “I also asked my son to join the coaching.”

Although both knew that they were well prepared to clear the tests, they were surprised when the news broke, going viral on social media.

“We are happy and tense because we are not able to handle this situation of constant attention,” Ottupara said. “We did not expect that the result would go viral.” It was the last chance for Bindu to try to join the civil service in Kerala, where the maximum age to apply is 40. She applied in 2019, a year before crossing the limit.

Social media posts under news headlines praised the duo for being an inspiration for Indian mothers and their children, and an “awesome example of willingness to achieve goals.”

Bindu was initially reluctant to give interviews but said that her coaching center told her the achievement will help motivate others.

“I keep on getting lots of calls from people,” she said. “I got a call from a coaching center in Calicut which said that because of me many women have joined the coaching. I feel that all the bother is worth it if I can inspire even one person.”


UK accidentally leaks personal data on Afghan teacher in hiding from Taliban

UK accidentally leaks personal data on Afghan teacher in hiding from Taliban
Updated 10 August 2022

UK accidentally leaks personal data on Afghan teacher in hiding from Taliban

UK accidentally leaks personal data on Afghan teacher in hiding from Taliban
  • The man, who has worked abroad, has been in hiding in Afghanistan with his wife and two children since the Taliban takeover in August last year
  • Afghan teacher: ‘I am more exposed and at risk of being misidentified as a British spy, because I worked abroad for so long’

LONDON: An Afghan teacher has been told by a UK government department that his personal details were passed to a member of the public in Afghanistan “in error.”

The man, who has worked abroad, has been in hiding in Afghanistan with his wife and two children since the Taliban takeover in August last year.

The data breach has been acknowledged by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and is the first known leak under the government’s Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, which prioritizes those who have assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan and vulnerable people, including members of minority groups.

Those wishing to apply for transfer to the UK through the scheme must complete an “expression of interest” form. The family’s personal details from this form were leaked to another Afghan citizen, putting them at risk of being found by the Taliban.

The ACRS team alerted the man to the leak, saying: “In accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation, I am writing to inform you that some of your personal data has, in error, been forwarded on to another member of the public who had submitted an expression of interest for the ACRS … which contained personal data, including your name and background details.

“We have reviewed our processes in light of this event and taken steps to avoid it happening again.”

The man said: “What is really upsetting and unsettling is the fact that instead of being the source of comfort and sanctuary, the British government has regrettably become the source of unimaginable pain and danger for us. These errors could be lethal.

“I am so frustrated with the blunders and non-responsiveness from the government during such a difficult year. Now I am lost for words that this has happened. I am more exposed and at risk of being misidentified as a British spy, because I worked abroad for so long. We are extremely shocked … It is so distressing for us all.”

The FCDO and the UK Home Office have joint responsibility for processing ACRS applications.

The government says it aims to resettle more than 5,000 people through the scheme in the first year, once the window for expression of interest forms closes on August 15.

Anyone resettled through the scheme will receive indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and under existing rules be able to apply for British citizenship after five years.

The ACRS runs separately to the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, which offers relocation to those who worked directly for the British government, including interpreters and security guards.

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Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes

Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes
Updated 10 August 2022

Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes

Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes
  • Skies darkened from the smoke billowing from forests destroyed by fires that have razed more than 6,000 hectares
  • France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heatwaves and its worst drought on record

HOSTENS, France: Wildfires tore through the Gironde region of southwestern France on Wednesday, destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 8,000 residents, some of whom had clambered onto rooftops as the flames got closer.
Skies darkened from the smoke billowing from forests destroyed by fires that have razed more than 6,000 hectares (14,826 acres) and were continuing to burn out of control despite the efforts of firefighters backed by water-bombing aircraft.
France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heatwaves and its worst drought on record. Dozens of wildfires are ablaze across the country, including at least eight major ones.
“Prepare your papers, the animals you can take with you, some belongings and WAIT FOR THE INVITATION TO LEAVE which will be notified to you by the gendarmerie, officials or volunteers going door-to-door,” the Gironde municipality of Belin-Beliet said on Facebook after authorities decided to evacuate part of the town.
In the nearby village of Hostens, police had earlier been door to door telling residents to leave as the fire advanced. Camille Delay fled with her partner and her son, grabbing their two cats, chickens and house insurance papers before taking flight.
“Everyone in the village climbed onto their rooftops to see what was happening — within ten minutes a little twist of smoke became enormous,” the 30-year-old told Reuters by telephone.
Firefighters said more evacuations were likely. Even so, some Hostens residents were reluctant to abandon their homes.
“It’s complicated to go with the dogs and we cannot leave them here,” said Allisson Horan, 18, who stayed behind with her father.
“I’m getting worried because the fire is in a plot of land behind ours and the wind is starting to change direction.”
Numerous small roads, and parts of a highway, were closed.

HEATWAVES
Sweden and Italy are among countries preparing to send help to France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
He repeated calls for everyone to be responsible — nine out of 10 fires are either voluntarily or involuntarily caused by people, he said.
The Gironde wildfire is one of many that have broken out across Europe this summer, triggered by heatwaves that have baked the continent and brought record temperatures to some places.
In Portugal, nearly 1,200 firefighters backed by eight aircraft have battled a blaze in the mountainous Covilha area some 280 km (174 miles) northeast of Lisbon that has burned more than 3,000 hectares of forest since Saturday.
Spain and Greece have also had to tackle multiple fires over the past few weeks.
The Gironde was hit by major wildfires in July which destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced almost 40,000 people from their homes.
Authorities believe the latest inferno was a result of the previous fires still smoldering in the area’s peaty soil.
Fires were also raging in the southern departments of Lozere and Aveyron. In the Maine et Loire department in western France, more than 1,200 hectares have been scorched by another fire.