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Pukur (Pare) Churi

Their fear of items being stolen, or not being returned, was considered preposterous. When the Honorable Adviser and his excellency the Charge d’Affaires had themselves, guaranteed the safety of Bangladesh’s most prized artefacts, surely the protesters could have no reason to oppose this arrangement. News of the missing crate, and the priceless statues it contained, had been suppressed, but the information leaked out. Could the guarantors please explain?
Mr. Jean Romnicianu, Charges d’Affaires, Ambassade de France ? Dacca, met with Bangladeshi journalists at the French Embassy in the first week of December 2007. In response to questions about the possibility of goods being damaged, stolen, or not being returned, he stated emphatically, “What I am saying is that for at least 30 years, it has never, not once, happened within the framework of an international exhibition. This is an international exhibition with a signed agreement between governments, there is no scope whatsoever of that kind of thing.” “We will take care of the artefacts, until they are returned to the museum. All the insurance and everything is what is called nail to nail,” elaborating that it implied protection from the moment the artefacts left their original position in the museum, to the time it was returned to their original position.
Today we hear him on television saying “The responsibility of the French Goverment begins from the point where the items are in French cargo.”
“We are not going to put the artefacts at risk by unpacking them,” was also something the Charge d’Affaires had said that day. Today (Dec 24th 2007), the BBC quoted that the remaining crates had all been checked at the airport. So airport officials who have no knowledge of archaeology are permitted to open the crates, while neither members of the expert committee nor the people who are legally required to inspect the artefacts, are allowed to do so. These officials had also signed documents stating they had verified the contents of the crates, which they had obviously not been allowed to do, even though it made the documents presented, technically false.
“The Museee Guimet and our authorities in France have worked rather hard, I must say, even though it resulted in one mistake, in keeping all the controversies outside of the French papers, of the European papers,” the Charge d’Affaires had also said that day. So the cover up was taking place at both the Bangladeshi and the French end. Presumably it continues.
(Audio recordings of these statements are available and will be uploaded as soon as they have been digitised)
air-france-0978.jpg The plane that was meant to have taken the artefacts to Paris. ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
searching-in-the-fields.jpg From Pukur Churi (stealing a pond) to Pukur Pare Churi (stealing by a pond). Search party looking for stolen artefacts by the pond at Zia International Airport. ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
empty-crate.jpg The empty crate. We had been told these were special crates that could not be opened, as they were very special. A 300 year old French company had been especially commissioned to pack the crates. The government and the French embassy decided to show improper documents rather than risk opening these special crates for proper inspection and documentation. Looks like a pretty ordinary crate to me. ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
media-on-alert-0905.jpg This was a story the state owned BTV had chosen to completely ignore. The rest of the media however, despite government efforts continued to report this important story. Despite the widespread protests and the media attention, the shipment was to go ahead. Both the Cultural Adviser and the French Charge d’Affaires, emphatically promised there was no question of items going missing or not being returned. ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
b035.mp3 Interview of police officer after discovery of crate (Bangla). Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
arrested-security-officer.jpg One of the arrested security officers. What of the big fish that masterminded this theft? Or the people who authorised this shipment despite the proven irregularities? ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
press-conference-0605.jpg Press conference at Chitrak Gallery, where the incident has been called the most major cultural disaster of the century. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
It was the letter from Shanika, the girl I had found during the Tsunami in Sri Lanka, that reminded me of how we had forgotten all the other things that were going on. It was now Boxing Day. The Day the Tsunami had struck. Bodies are still being discovered after the Sidr cyclone. Demand for the trial of war criminals has moved off the headlines. Bodies of workers remain buried in the Rangs building rubble. It reminds me of how classed our struggles are. While we had united in protest when our archaeological heritage was being threatened, no such protest had taken place in solidarity with the workers.
wedding-car-outside-museum-0629.jpg It was Christmas day, and it is the wedding season in Bangladesh. People had gathered outside the musuem, as word had spread that the remaining artefacts were being returned. It was a very different mood, and the local flower shop was using the wide road to decorate a wedding car. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
media-outside-museum-watching-return-of-artefacts-1329.jpg Media professionals outside museum gate watching the return of remaining 12 crates. ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
homebound-returning-artefacts-to-museum-0644.jpg Homebound heading home. The crates are now back in the museum. The demand for reinstating them in their original location continues. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
nisar-at-atn-0640.jpg It was the vigilance of Nisar Hossain (teacher at the college of fine arts, affectionately dubbed, ‘Sector Commander’ by fellow campaigners) and his friends that led to many of the irregularities being unearthed. Nisar being interviewed on the ATN channel. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
munni-interviewing-nisar-0639.jpg The media played an important role in keeping the issue in the public eye. Munni Saha interviewing Nisar Hossain for a programme in the ATN channel. The discussions included a clear condemnation of the French Charge d’Affaires’ statement blaming the protestors for the theft. The programme will air at 11:00 am Dhaka time on the 26th December 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
shanikas-letter-0645.jpg Letter from Shanika, received earlier in the month.
shanika-and-shahidul-0198.jpg During an assignment for Help The Aged in Sri Lanka last month, I had sneaked a visit to Totagumuwa, in Hikkaduwa to see Shanika. The Tsunami had taken away her mother and her three sisters (including her twin sister). Photo: ? Priantha (Shanika’s dad).
27th December 2007
Sylvie Rebbot, the picture editor of Geo Magazine in France, just sent me this press release last night. It was issued yesterday (the 26th December 2007) by the French Ministry of Culture. While it talks about the theft of the two statues, from Zia International Airport, there is no mention of the 10 crates that are already in Paris at the Guimet Museum.
Press Release by French Ministry of Culture (26th Dec 2007)

Published inBangladeshCapitalismColonialismcultureexploitationguimetImperialismPeoplepoliticsShahidul AlamWorld


  1. SR SR

    Trusting the French with your artefacts is like lending your chicken to the fox! Those who have visited French museums, especially the Louvre, know who are the thieves de la thieves, looters of all looters…! They stole, looted, smuggled, procured by hook or crook the artefacts, antics, pieces of art from all the nations and tribes of the world, and are displaying those items proudly in their museums!!!
    Shame on the looters and shame on the native dalals, sons of Mir Zaraf!

  2. ASA ASA

    Couldn’t agree more with SR … a visit to the Louvre, and especially it’s Egyptian and Persian sections would make you speechless. Not just by the grandeur and the beauty of the artifacts, but by realizing by scale of the robbery the French pulled … shipping artifacts by the boatloads for centuries. No one could possibly bring so much and such huge items without the backing of a orchastrated and well organized campaign of deceit and thuggery.

  3. […] Alam, who reported about the protests to stop the second shipment is furious: Their fear of items being stolen, or not being returned, was considered preposterous. News of the […]

  4. cheated cheated

    The cultural affairs adviser is thinking of resignation. Since i read that news in bdnews i have been eagerly waiting to see what he does. But he is still thinking…and thinking… ‘to resign or not to resign that is the question’..he has become a great thinker!

  5. Cheated Cheated

    Now that Mr. Quadri finally resigned, I congratulate him for his bold decision and withdraw whatever negative comments I made about him before.

  6. Sidr Sidr

    I wonder just how many stuffs are actually missing… 1. How is it that a NATIONAL museum has no means of keeping artifacts at least properly stored up? 2. How come not a single archaeologist showed up / got to the authorities … to help? Don’t tell me there ain’t no archaeologists in this country… don?t some of the coveted govt. universities have archeology departments?!! 3. I was actually expecting a bigger turn up in terms of people ? … & certainly more spunk among the mass… like hello, where did all these people we see crowding Ramna & rallying with Charu-kala-ites… who seem so feverish on Pahela Boishakh, dieing to celebrate a day cuz itz our ‘culture’?? I mean, shouldn?t the whole country be going crazy over this?
    4. Is there anyone who can actually get to France & check out whatz up with the Museee Guimet … With the ways things have been rolling, I wont be surprised if Museee Guimet ‘accidentally’ had one or two crates unpacked… & forgot to notify us about it… sigh! 5. I really can?t believe France is being so sleazy about it all… When did France start filtering out news like these from their media? How come we, the ones concerned, aren?t shouting out to the international media about it??
    … Yes, I’ve been ranting here… & yes, Im being very cynical too? But I can?t get this feeling gone. Here I am, with absolutely NOTHING to do about it all, PoWeRlESs. It is just about HuMiLiAtInG to see not one but TWO countries get away with murder. Murder of a culture? a heritage? something so precisely inherent for our identity that it will take generations to prove its loss. & worse still? not too many are bothered in the real sense? from the way I see it. My friends wont bother digging this issue up, cuz itz too ?political? & complicated? grown-ups at home have the view-point that ?murtiy toh, ki aar hobeh? ekhane naa thakuk, thakuk kono-naa-konokhaaneh? (= ?these are just statues, so let them be at France, or Anywhere? doesn?t matter where?)? I totally appreciate the people who have come forward in whatever ways to raise concern over this ?Pukur churi?; yet I feel nauseated when I realize that the damage has already been done.
    God knows for how long this will go on? but in a NATIONAL museum where visitors can sign on Jainal Abedin?s pictures? I wonder what more will remain of these amazing artifacts. I wonder if I?ll ever get to see them with my own eyes, not via the internet or Tv? but in flesh & blood. Someday, the generation next will ask you and me, ?Yes, we have heard about ?71? and so on & so forth, & oh yes, there?s all the sarees & Punjabis to be worn on Pohela Boishakh, but where exactly are our culture at? What have we inherited?? I guess all we?ll get to do then is direct them to the museums. May be they?ll find some rumbles here & there, in cheap ? crates, perished under the burden of being subverted by 2 entire nations.

  7. Tapas Tapas

    Sidr: I understand your bitterness, but do not let yourself overwhelmed by it. Art is a political affair, it is always used by politicians in order to assert their power over others: to possess art means that you possess the soul of the other. And in this game, institutions, i.e. museums, are used, even manipulated. Museums become then the visiting card of a country.
    On the other side, it is also true that the way countries go with their past and historical testimonies, reflects also how the culture on which they are articulated respects life or not. To admire an art object is not, in this context, the affair of rich collectors, but of everybody: it tells how you respect those forefathers who paved the way to what you are. In this sense, it was wrong on the side of organisers to let out knowledgeable scholars from Bangladesh and to tackle the whole affair as if they are the only ones to detain the clue to the knowledge of Bangladeshi past. And yes, it is also true that a lot of work has still to be done in Bangladesh in order to awake the responsability for the preservation of monuments, awareness is alone not enough.

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