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In 1863, the British found inside the Red Fort at Delhi remnants of two life-size stone elephants and their riders. The nascent Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) then took on the task of restoring the sculptures. It turned out that these were the same statues that the 17th-century French traveller Francois Bernier had reportedly seen standing at one of the fort gates.

The riders, he had said, symbolised Jaimal Rathore and Patta Sisodia, the defenders of the Chittor fort who died fighting Emperor Akbar in 1568. A link was therefore made that these were sculptures originally installed by Akbar at Agra Fort and brought to Delhi when Shah Jahan built his new capital of Shahjahanabad.

The provenance of these sculptures was actively debated through the rest of the 19th century into the 20thcentury and whether these really commemorated the slain Rajput warriors. In 1875, the rider statues were photographed upon restoration. One would have thought that such important pieces of tangible heritage that also cast historical memory in stone would be treasured. But nobody knows today where these are or what happened to them. The 1875 photograph and another taken in the early 20th century are all that remain of these historical statues.

The recent CAG report has castigated Indian Museum, Kolkata, for ruining precious artefacts during a revamp project. India’s museums have always had a tough time managing their rich repositories of artefacts – some of the most enviable collections anywhere in the world. But over the years, some priceless treasures have been lost, either due to apathy or theft.

There is no quantification of the number of items lost, but independent curator, art critic and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote believes this number is in thousands if the focus is on independent India alone. “Despite the windy rhetoric about our pride in our ancient civilisation and culture, India is remarkably cavalier in its approach to museum culture,” Hoskote says. But neglect alone doesn’t explain the loss of artefacts; organised smuggling networks and “unscrupulous and naïve overseas collectors” have also played their part in this “plunder” of India’s cultural wealth. “The tragedy is that a number of these artefacts have been stolen from sites that are under the protection of ASI or other agencies,” Hoskote says.

He also picks five invaluable artefacts that have been stolen from India, including from museums. These are a 9th-century stone sculpture of Brahma from the temple of Devangan near Mount Abu, Rajasthan (stolen in the early 1960s); a late 11th-century/early 12th-century stone sculpture of Ganesha from the open-air site museum at the Rani ki Vav stepwell in Patan, Gujarat (stolen in 2001); a 10th-century stone sculpture of Ganesha from the Devi temple at Hatkoti near Shimla in Himachal Pradesh (stolen in 2006); three late 11th-century stone sculptures of Sarasvati, Vishnu, and Shiva from the Kaner ki Putli temple in a sacred grove, Khadipur village, Bhilwara district, Rajasthan (stolen in 2010; and a 7th-century stone sculpture of Gauri-Shankara from the Shitaleshvara Mahadeva temple at Jhalrapatan, Jhalawad district, Rajasthan (stolen in 2012).

Open-air sites are the most difficult to protect. Relic thieves routinely target the Indus Valley Civilisation sites. But even a site like the 18th-century South Park Street Cemetery that’s protected by the ASI and lies in the heart of Kolkata isn’t any safer. Among the 2,000 graves here is the final resting place of Major General Charles Stuart, an Indophile East India Company official who was known as Hindoo Stuart for embracing Hindu culture. He was buried in 1828 along with some of the sculptures that he had collected, and his grave was designed like a Hindu temple.

“These sculptures had been originally stolen by Hindoo Stuart from South Indian temples. Much of them have been stolen since Independence. In 2018, a slate lotus from the grave was plucked out in the dead of night,” says Dr Tathagata Neogi, a Kolkata-based archaeologist and heritage conservationist.

But that’s not all: entire sites are under the threat of annihilation. “We are about to lose the entire site of Garh Panchakot, a medieval capital of Manbhum destroyed during the Maratha invasion of Bengal and now vanishing under rampant construction activity. Same goes for Bhot Bagan Math in Howrah, which played a pivotal role in the EIC-Tibet relations during Hastings and is the first Tibetan monastery and embassy in the plains of India. It is in ruins too. Sites in Murshidabad beyond the Hazarduari Palace are gradually becoming ruins, including the huge Nizamat stables,” Neogi says.

What explains this neglect? Inadequate funding, staff and regard for heritage are the reasons, Hoskote says. “We have very few museums that are led by visionary directors and staffed by enthusiastic teams of curators, educators, researchers, and administrators. Museums mustn’t be seen as an optional extra… they should be venues where children could learn what it means to be citizens of a richly diverse society, inheritors of multiple histories, so that they can grow up to contribute to and safeguard India’s plural futures,” Hoskote says.

The Times of India is an Indian English-language daily newspaper owned by The Times Group. It is the third-largest newspaper in India by circulation and largest selling English-language daily in the world. according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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INDIA

India calls for complete ceasing of support to terrorist forces in Middle East

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UNITED NATIONS: India has called on all concerned parties to completely stop supporting terrorist forces, like the ISIS, while urging all stakeholders in the Middle East to work constructively for peace, stability and development.

India underscored that it has invested considerably in the peace and stability of the region by deploying its personnel as part of UN peacekeeping forces, through humanitarian assistance, development cooperation, capacity building, and will continue contributing towards peace-building in the Middle East.

“India calls on concerned parties to completely stop support to terrorist forces, like ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and others. India also urges all parties in the region to work constructively and in good faith to promote peace, stability and development for the benefit of all people in the Middle East,” India said in a written statement on Monday on the Security Council’s open debate on ‘The Situation in the Middle East’.

India said the truce between Israel and the Hamas has eased the humanitarian situation in Gaza and expressed hope that the temporary truce is converted into a permanent ceasefire, which can save precious human lives on both sides and create a conducive environment for talks.

“It is an unfortunate reality that the interlinked and mutually reinforcing challenges faced by the people of the Middle East have not yet been resolved. Political instability, long-festering conflicts, sectarian divides, issue of refugees and terrorism continue to plague the region. The COVID-pandemic has only exacerbated the threats posed by these challenges,” India said.

The statement made India’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador T S Tirumurti, will go as part of the official record of the Council.

India said it appreciates the agreement between Fatah and Hamas for holding Parliamentary and Presidential elections and also elections for the Palestinian National Council, which will help fulfill the democratic aspirations of the Palestinian people.

India also welcomed the agreements for normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. “India has always supported peace and stability in West Asia, which is our extended neighbourhood,” India said.

Further, India said the commencement of discussions on the disputed border between Israel and Lebanon is a significant development, expressing hope that this will provide an opportunity to resolve the longstanding issue between the two countries.

India highlighted that Palestinian aspirations for a sovereign and independent state are yet to be fulfilled and stressed that New Delhi has been unwavering in its commitment to the Palestinian cause and continues to remain supportive of a peaceful negotiated resolution of the Palestinian issue.

“India has supported the two-state solution as a just and acceptable solution to the conflict. Establishment of a Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel, within mutually agreed borders should be achieved through negotiations directly by the two parties,” India said adding that any stalemate could strengthen the hands of extremists and shut the door to cooperation thereby jeopardising the security, stability and prosperity of the people on both sides and the region.

Accordingly, India urged Israel and Palestine to resume direct negotiations at the earliest and called upon the international community to take concrete steps towards resuming and facilitating these negotiations quickly.

India noted that the decade-long armed conflict in Syria has claimed over 400,000 lives, displaced 6.2 million people internally and compelled another 6.3 million people to seek shelter in neighbouring countries.

“While we are heartened to see return of normalcy to major parts of the country, we are also reminded of the enormous resources that would be required to provide urgent humanitarian aid, rebuild infrastructure, enable return of the refugees and restore a normal and dignified life of all Syrians,” the statement said.

India said in the statement that it is not only contributing to the return of normalcy and rebuilding of Syria, but has also consistently called for a comprehensive and peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict through a Syrian-led dialogue, taking into account the legitimate aspirations of the people of Syria.

India voiced concern over the security and humanitarian situation in Yemen and said the recent exchange of prisoners by the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah, who had been detained in connection with the conflict, is a welcome development.

“India hopes that the parties will take more confidence building measures to provide the necessary impetus for the full implementation of the Stockholm Agreement,” the statement read.

India also hopes for peace and stability in Iraq with full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

India noted that in the aftermath of the August blast that brought destruction to vast swathes of Beirut and inflicted heavy loss of lives, India stood in solidarity with Lebanon.

New Delhi sent emergency humanitarian aid of over 58 metric tons to Beirut. “We look forward to the swift formation of a new government that can offer political stability and also tackle the grave socio-economic challenges being faced by the people of Lebanon,” the statement said.

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US, India must focus on threat posed by China: Secretary of state Mike Pompeo

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NEW DELHI: US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Tuesday stressed on the need for Washington and New Delhi to work together to counter the threat posed by Beijing to “security and freedom”

Pompeo’s comment came during the crucial 2+2 dialogue between India and the US, which saw the signing of a crucial defence agreement between the two countries.

“There is much more work to do for sure. We have a lot to discuss today: Our cooperation on the pandemic that originated in Wuhan, to confronting the Chinese Communist Party’s threats to security and freedom to promoting peace and stability throughout the region,” Pompeo said during talks with defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar. Pompeo was joined by defence secretary Mark Esper.

Esper too focussed on the apparent threat posed by China, specifically in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Our focus now must be on institutionalising and regularising our cooperation to meet the challenges of the day and uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific well into the future,” Esper said.

The comments assume significance as India is locked in a border standoff with China in eastern Ladakh.

In June this year, 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of PLA soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, hardening the mood in India against China and driving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to seek closer military ties with the United States.

In the US, President Donald Trump has made being tough on China a key part of his campaign to secure a second term in next week’s presidential election and Pompeo has been trying to bolster allies to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

This month, India invited Australia to join naval drills it holds each year with the United States and Japan, brushing off Chinese concerns that the exercises destabilise the region.

(With inputs from agencies)

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defence Secretary Mark Esper meet NSA Doval

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NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper on Tuesday held talks with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, covering key aspects of growing strategic ties between the two countries.

Issues of strategic importance were discussed at the meeting, sources said.

The meeting took place ahead of the third edition of 2+2 ministerial dialogue. Esper and Pompeo arrived here on Monday for the crucial talks aimed at further boosting the defence and security ties between the two countries.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar held separate talks with their US counterparts on Monday.

Earlier on Tuesday, both the top US administration officials visited the National War Memorial and paid tributes to India’s fallen heroes.

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