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Online group tracks stolen art and negotiates for its return

The project includes a core team of twelve people, with around 700 part-time volunteers around the world. The group states that they are looking to ensure the return of any artwork that was removed illegally and that is not owned privately. The group has so far negotiated the return of nine pieces of art.

Thanks to the groups efforts, the Indian government has also sought the return of eight more artworks, the Ohio Bronze Ganesha from Sripuranthan, India, two bronzes currently held by the United States Customs, the Singapore Asian Civilisations’ Uma from Sripuranthan, a massive sculpture worth $15 million U.S., called the Barhut Yakshi, and a stone idol of the goddess Durga at the Stuttgart Museum. However, the number of artifacts smuggled out is quite enormous, and just one individual involved in the smuggling from the Indian side, Vaman Ghiya, had admitted to helping smuggle around 10,000 pieces out of the country.

Indian artwork is beginning to attract greater attention in the market. The quality of classical artwork in India make them highly desirable acquisitions. Often, India is treated as a no-consequence zone because of the apathy of the authorities.

Vijay Kumar, who spearheads the project related the difficulties the group faces, often from unexpected quarters. “Obviously, getting the owners to give back the works is difficult. But we’ve been most surprised about the government’s apathy towards this. They just don’t care. In some cases, museums are willing to return a work but the officials aren’t interested in coordinating the task,” said Kumar.

However, with India rapidly becoming a popular destination for heritage and cultural tours, the government has begun to pay more attention to looting. The Indian parliament recently took up a discussion on the matter, and the government has also negotiated for the return of some artifacts from the United States and Australia.

Currently, the group has completed documentation on 20 artifacts worth about $25 million U.S., and have a list of 700 more that are yet to be documented in full detail. The larger goal of the organization is to create a database of all artifacts that need to be returned to India.

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