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Theft of sacred temple objects angers public

(Balitrips.net) / 11 Dec 2012
Theft of sacred temple objects angers publicA series of thefts targeting sacred religious objects from several temples across the island has angered the public and increased pressure on the police, who have yet to identify and arrest the perpetrators. The burglaries, the first of which took place in March, have forced traditional communities to organize civilian night patrols and, in some cases, relocate sacred objects to safer locations.

The temples’ sacred objects, in particular the pretima, or small effigies made of precious woods and usually bedecked with gold and gemstones, are very valuable articles for Balinese Hindus because they serve as the earthly, physical presence of their gods.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 expensive for communities and they would also have to conduct a series of major rituals to purify and enshrine the object.

This is why so many Balinese Hindus have demanded that the judiciary not treat such thefts as common criminal acts. Instead, they argue, the perpetrators must be tried for desecration.In the latest display of the public’s growing frustration with the police, scores of students from the Indonesia Hindu Students Association (KMHDI) and the Hindu Dharma College (IHDN) staged a rally at the Bali Legislative Council on Friday.“We condemn the thieves. The police must catch them immediately because the theft of pretima and other sacred objects from temples shows utter disrespect to Hinduism,” the rally’s coordinator, I Nyoman Surpa, said.

Between March and November, a large number of pretima and other sacred objects were stolen from 21 temples in five regencies, including Badung, Buleleng, Gianyar, Jembrana and Tabanan. None of the crimes have been solved by the police. Dressed in Balinese traditional costume, the students staged a play depicting religious rituals for the pretima and the other sacred objects. One of the students carried a replica of a pretima on her head, while two other students carried red parasols. Traditional gamelan musical instruments and a man wearing a mask depicting Rangda, the long-haired, fanged representation of the wrathful Durgha, the Goddess of Death, were the centerpieces of the rally. “We really hope that the legislative council compels the Bali Police to be more serious in maintaining security on this island,” Surpa said.

Previously, several high priests and religious figures had met with Bali Police deputy chief Brig. Gen. I Ketut Untung Yoga to convey their concerns over the matter. Untung Yoga disclosed that the police had formed a special team to investigate the thefts.Students also urged the authorities to severely punish the thieves. “We demand the death punishment for the thieves,” Surpa said.

Previously in 2010, a number of sacred-object thefts also raised concern among locals. Police finally solved the case at the end of 2010. The police arrested seven people involved in the robberies, including an Italian national, Roberto Gamba, who had bought hundreds of stolen pretima from the thieves.However, after a trial lasting several months, Gamba was only sentenced to five months in jail, which triggered anger and disappointment among many Balinese Hindu scholars and community leaders.

Two other defendants in the case, I Gusti Lanang Sidemen and Komang Oka Sukaya, were handed seven-year prison sentences. Four other Balinese charged in connection with the case received sentences of between six-and-a-half and seven years’ imprisonment.“We were really disappointed by the light sentences in the previous case. It was unjust. When the police catch the thieves [in this latest case], we demand the heaviest sentences be meted out so that similar cases do not happen again in the future,” Surpa said.

Bali Legislative Councilor Kari Subali agreed that the thieves should be given heavy sentences. “This case has gravely injured us as Balinese and Hindus. Pretima have a special meaning for us,” he said, adding that rather than the death penalty, the thieves should be punished with life imprisonment.

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