How a history post-graduate masterminded idol thefts in Rajasthan
A 35-year-old man with a master’s degree in history has been arrested along with eight others within 10 days of carrying out alleged theft of three 12th century idols from a temple in Rajasthani’s Sirohi district he had planned for over four years.
Praveen Rajpurohit and his gang were arrested Tuesday after carrying out the theft on January 5, according to police investigators. He had allegedly been plotting the theft since 2015 with the help of his 25-year-old friend Vikram Rajpurohit after learning that the idols were worth about Rs 1 crore in the international market.
“Both of them worked at a local cement factor in Pindwara,” said Sumer Singh, in charge of Pindwara police station, under whose jurisdiction the idols of Lord Krishna, Garuda and Sanwlaji were stolen. The recovered idols, which are made of sapphire or Neelam, were stolen along with ornaments.
Singh said Vikram Rajpurohit introduced Praveen Rajpurohit to Suresh Rawal, 36, in 2015 to carry out the theft. He added Rawal has been arrested earlier for smuggling gold and other antiques. The investigators have found that Rawal and Vikram Rajpurohit then surveyed the temple and roped in Yunus Khan, 47, a driver, who knew the area around the temple well, to help them to execute their plan.
Singh said Rawal soon began avoiding Praveen Rajpurohit and Vikram Rajpurohit as he got cold feet despite taking Rs 20,000 advance for allegedly stealing the idols. In December, the four met again and decided to execute the plan with help of Reshmaram Garasiya, 50.
On January 2, Vikram Rajpurohit and Garasiya surveyed the temple before allegedly stealing the idols three days later. Singh said Garasiya and his accomplices, Shivlal Garasiya, 20, and Dhanaram, 50, allegedly broke into the temple to steal the idols around 11 pm on January 5.
Sirohi police superintendent, Jai Yadav, constituted a special team to investigate the theft and arrested all nine on Tuesday. Yadav said the accused have been arrested under Indian Penal Code’s section 455 [trespass], 380 [theft], 411 [dishonestly receiving stolen property], 427 [causing damage to property] and 120 B [criminal conspiracy].
Yadav said they were trying to find whether the gang had any ties with a smuggler of artifacts identified as Khiyaram, who is from Jaipur. “Khiyaram has been arrested in the past, too, in cases of smuggling of precious idols.”
A Rajasthan government archaeologist called the idols priceless. “The prices of the idols... depend on the taste of buyers. Some galleries purchase idols in lakhs from India and sell them through exhibitions in crores,” he said on condition of anonymity. He said earlier such stolen items were smuggled mostly to Germany.
“But after Germany made tougher laws on protecting antiquity works, the smuggling of antiques has stopped. Now the US is biggest market for these stolen pieces, followed by the UK and now it is moving to Australia.”
He added that the smugglers generally identify ancient temples in remote villages and engage burglars.