Students rage over stolen sacred objects

by Ni Komang Erviani on 2013-07-06

Dozen of Indonesian Hindu Students Association (KMHDI) members protested against the provincial administration’s lack of attention to the fate of confiscated sacred objects currently in storage at the government-owned warehouse.

The protest, held in front of the Bali Legislative Council building in Denpasar on Friday morning, called on the Bali government to process the stolen goods and to return them to their places of origin or display them in local museums.

“The confiscated sacred objects have been in storage for three years without any follow-up actions. We are afraid the kept objects will be taken away by Roberto Gamba,” the students protested.

Hundreds of sacred objects that were stolen from various temples in Bali were confiscated during a
police raid in 2010.

A number of locals were arrested for involvement in the thefts. Italian citizen Robert Gamba was also arrested for buying and storing the stolen objects. The police legally processed the case, confiscated the stolen goods and stored them in a government’s warehouse on Jl. Ratna in Denpasar.

Kadek Sumadiarta, a student representative, told members of the Council that neither the government nor the police have taken firm action.

Most of the stolen objects were pretima, or small effigies made of precious wood, usually bedecked with gold and gemstones. Balinese Hindus consider these items valuable as they believe they are an earthly, physical presence of their gods.

For Balinese Hindus, the loss of a pretima cuts deeply into the psyche of the community, which feels violated by the theft and, at the same time, abandoned by the grace and protection of their deities.

Creating a new pretima would be too expensive for communities and they would also have to conduct a series of major rituals to purify and enshrine the object.

“We demand heavier punishment for both the thieves and buyers of our sacred objects,” the student said.

The trials of the perpetrators and Robert Gamba in 2010 disappointed the island’s religious leaders, scholars and members of the community, in general.

The seven-month trial sentenced the two defendants in the case — I Gusti Lanang Sidemen and Komang Oka Sukaya — to seven years in prison. Robert Gamba was imprisoned for only five months while four other people involved in the case received six-and-a-half-year prison sentences.

According to the Indonesian law, the confiscated goods could be auctioned after five years in storage.

“We really do not want our sacred objects to be sold or auctioned,” the student demanded.

The students also obtained information that Gamba would be returning to Bali soon. “Bali should not welcome him anymore,” he urged.

The students also questioned the capability and willingness of the Bali Police to solve the theft of sacred objects, which is now thriving again.

A massive number of sacred objects have been stolen from 16 major temples across the island since January 2013. Similar cases occurred in 2012 and have yet to be solved.

Bali Legislative Council Commission IV chairman Nyoman Partha said that the council would take action to remove the sacred objects from the warehouse.

“We will have a meeting with all related stakeholder to discuss the fate of the sacred objects. Of course, we do not want the sacred objects to be auctioned,” he said, adding that these were not ordinary criminal cases.

“It could be categorized as a religious offense,” the legislator commented.

Choose an Edition