The home ministry’s Department of Culture (DoC) is yet to decide where the relics recovered from choeten vandalism convicts of Mongar would be handed over.

The department’s division heads would meet on March 27 to decide about it.

Office of Attorney General (OAG) handed over more than 1,000 relics recovered from choeten vandalism convicts to the DoC on March 19. There are about 100 different relics.

DoC’s deputy chief of culture property record officer, Sangay Wangchuk, said since the relics were vandalised from Mongar dzongkhag, they would suggest it be handed over to the dzongkhag. “In the past, non-registered relics were sent to museums, new lhakhangs or choetens.”

He said relics handed over to dzongkhags are put in lhakhangs or choetens from which it was stolen. “This procedure is monitored by the dzongkhag culture officer along with a committee consisting of members from gewogs and dzongkhags.”

A report is submitted to DoC after the relics are put in lhakhangs and choetens.

Sangay Wangchuk said DoC maintains an inventory of the relics in the country. “We have covered almost all the lhakhangs but since the choetens were built much earlier, we don’t have a list of items from the old choetens.”

DoC maintained a list of relics in the country since 1982. Today DoC also maintains a record of the relics in a newly constructed lhakhangs or choetens.

Sangay Wangchuk said the department receives cases of stolen relics from lhakhangs but most of the cases related to choeten vandalism are solved at the dzongkhag level. “The culture officers at dzongkhags report to DoC and the department maintains the data.”

He said that although relics in almost all lhakhangs are registered with DoC, most of the individual properties are not registered.

He added that people don’t register relics with DoC in fear of losing it to the department.

“Private antiques are considered as an antique of the country. If an item is lost, we can seek help with the information available to find the items. DoC will not take the items.”

Meanwhile, of more than 1000 relics recovered from the 12 people convicted in a choeten vandalism case in Mongar, about 40 items are identified as antiques.

DoC categorises items older than 100 years or having significance as antiques.

OAG handed over the relics, which includes jewellery, coins, dzee, statues, bowls and altar items the 12 men vandalised from more than 100 choetens and lhakhangs. The men vandalised choetens in Mongar and Lhuentse from 1997 to 2017.

Sangay Wangchuk said that the antiques are worth about Nu 600,000. “The antiques are mostly jewellery, coins and dzee.”

He said most relics of the vandalised choeten are antiques, while the relics from the statues taken from the lhakhangs are new.

Phurpa Lhamo