In the recent past, so many valuable idols and sculptures which were smuggled out from Indian temples have been brought back. Along with the Government, an organisation which is working with a mission “Restore the Nation’s Pride through Restoring Its Culture”, deserves a round of applause. If India Pride Project is the organisation behind this messianic mission, Anuraag Saxena is one who dedicates himself in this relentless pursuit, spoke to Organiser about this pioneering venture:.
Tell something about this India Pride Project to our readers.
India Pride Project is a volunteer-network spread across the globe, that tracks and brings back our stolen gods. We also build awareness about the issue, so citizens and officials understand why this is crucial to India from a geo-political perspective.
Why is so important for India to bring back its stolen heritage?
When 9/11 happened, America decided to hit back with all its might. Why? Because the terrorists didn’t just attack the twin-towers. They attacked what those towers represented; the core of America – Capitalism.
India’s core has been our heritage and culture. People have been attacking that core for centuries. First it was mughals, then the colonisers, and now some enemies from within. We, as a nation, cannot twiddle our thumbs while our country is getting looted. Its time we show the world that Indians will respond if you attack India’s core.
What exactly do you mean by “India’s core”.
Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay ji once said, “the basic cause of the problems facing Bharat is the neglect of Its National Identity”. Have we ever debated and developed shared understanding of what this “National Identity” is?
In my humble opinion, the few things that string all Indians together, are Bollywood, Cricket and our Heritage. Of these, Bollywood and cricket are a recent phenomena. Heritage on the other hand is timeless. My forefathers lit diyas on Diwali, so do I. My forefathers burnt Ravana’s effigy, so do I. My forefathers did their naamkaran and pranaams before the deity, so do I. By removing that deity, we are breaking the link with our forefathers.
My argument is simple, nothing binds us across the country, and across the ages; like our heritage & culture does.
So how does India Pride Project solve the issue?
There are many historians and enthusiasts that have dedicated their lives to tracking stolen Indian heritage. Vijay Kumar, Kirit Mankoti, Jason Felch, Donna Yates and many others have been painstakingly researching and documenting the subject. They meticulously track, document, compare and prove that an object that appears in a museum somewhere, was actually stolen from India. Once that trail is proven, it is put out in the public domain, so that officials can use it.
Do those officials take action?
Sattar saal se toh kuch nahi hua. Only the Modi government that has taken action. However, a lot still needs to be done. It is slightly amusing for us, that foreign governments, agencies and universities recognise the work that IPP does; but India’s own officials and institutions are not as enthusiastic. As an example, USA offered back 200 antiquities to India; of which our officials brought back only 8. Recently, Indian officials missed attending a UNESCO meeting on this subject, where 192 countries participated. Seizing this opportunity, Pakistan is filing a claim with UNESCO, for the Dancing Girl from Mohenjodaro be sent from India.
Are you saying the system is broken?
The system isn’t broken. It was built this way. There has been an institutionalised destruction of ancient Indian heritage since independence. The rust will take time to clean.
n Do you think this heritage-trafficking leads to terror-funding?
In February 2015, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) expressed its concern that the Islamic State (ISIS) “are generating income from engaging directly or indirectly in the looting and smuggling in cultural heritage items… to support their recruitment efforts.” The UNSC resolution 2199, formally recognises that heritage trafficking is a tool for terror-funding. Since then, many nations, like USA and Pakistan have passed laws preventing heritage-trafficking.
Did you say Pakistan?
Yes indeed. The KP Antiquities Act, 2016 was recently enacted in Pakistan and it increases financial penalty on heritage-crimes by 40 times. The law also establishes the Antiquities Trade Control Wing to regulate and monitor illegal trafficking of antiquities. Unfortunately, India neither has an updated law, nor a dedicated enforcement wing.
n What is the role of volunteers in IPP?
IPP is a purely volunteer-driven network with no financial support from government, agencies or corporates. In fact IPP has no full time employees or budgets whatsoever.
We get all kinds of support from various volunteers. As an example, technologist Aashish Shetty volunteered to manage technology. Noted historian and economist, Sanjeev Sanyal helped build awareness by writing about the cause. Many others organised awareness meetings in Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, etc. There are countless others who don’t even expect to be mentioned.
Tell us about your mass-awareness programs.
We have been invited into living rooms to share our mission with a small handful. We have also been invited to auditoriums with over 500 people. All of it by the effort of selfless volunteers. When we ran a social-media campaign with the hashtag “#BringOurGodsHome”, thousands of citizens made sure it trended on twitter. In fact, it was in the Top-5 trends in the country. When we created an online petition with the same title, we received thousands of signatures from 25 different countries.
We are extremely thankful to PM Narendra Modi ji for acknowledging the public sentiment and bringing back Indian heritage from many countries since then.
So are you satisfied with what you have achieved?
Swami Vivekananda once said, “Arise, awake, stop not until your goal is achieved”. While we are pleased that a handful of objects have returned to the motherland; we are also aware that thousands of others continue to languish in foreign lands.
Our battle will not be not complete till each and every God comes home. “The basic cause of the problems Bharat is facing, is the neglect of Its ‘National Identity”.