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India expects Australia to return antique idols: Envoy


Melbourne, Jun 4: India on Wednesday said it expects Australia to return a 900-year-old 'Dancing Shiva' statue and another stone sculpture bought from a disgraced Indian antiquities dealer.

"We are satisfied with the steps taken and cooperation extended by the Australian government in response to this issue," India's High Commissioner Biren Nanda said.

"We had formally requested the return of the statues and currently there is a process which is being followed to resolve the issue. We expect that the statues would be returned to India," he told PTI.

The Canberra-based Indian High Commission had formally requested the return of a 900-year-old Dancing Shiva statue from the National Gallery of Australia and a stone sculpture of the god Ardhanarishvara from the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Following the request of Indian government, the two galleries in March this year "voluntarily removed" the sculptures from public display. Both artefacts were bought from Indian artefact dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is currently on trial in India for looting and wanted in the US for allegedly running a smuggling operation.

National Gallery had paid USD 5 million for the Shiva statue in February 2008 while Art Gallery of NSW bought six items from Kapoor, including the Ardhanarishvara sculpture for USD 300,000 in 2004. According to Tarun Kumar, the first secretary at the Indian High Commission, the case was currently being probed by Tamil Nadu police and there was no time frame regarding the decision on when the idols will be returned.

However, he said, Australian authorities had taken steps on the Indian request.

In March, both the artefacts were moved in the care of Australian federal government under the Moveable Cultural Heritage Act, a law that allowed the galleries 30 days to challenge India's claims.

As the deadline for contesting the claims expired on April 26, the idols were forfeited to the Australian government. The decision was now in the hands of the Commonwealth.


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