Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Stolen Artefacts

In July 2012, Indian artefacts worth over Rs.90 crore were seized from a US art store and a major smuggler (Subhash Kapoor) was arrested. This has put the spotlight back on the vulnerability of Indian art and the need to protect it. The Ministry of Culture in 2007 listed 13 objects that are yet to be brought back to India. In 2010, in a written reply in the Lok Sabha, it admitted that no stolen or lost antiquities had been retrieved or recovered during the last three years.

Smuggling antiquities is a theoretical impossibility. All ancient art objects including privately owned ones must be registered with an appropriate authority. Their export is banned. Any newly made artefact that resembles an antiquity must be certified by the archaeological authorities as being so and declared as not historically valuable before they can be taken out of the country. Customs authorities are to check for all art objects that are carried in person or shipped.
Trade in illicit antiquities inflicts double jeopardy: 
- the illegal removal of objects from their archaeological setting erases critical historical information; 
- and it depletes a nation’s cultural capital. 

The current laws and schemes pertaining to this are:

- Antiquities and Art Treasures Act (1972): In 2003, the Ministry of Culture announced that it would amend this act to: 
  • make trading in stolen antiquities a non-bailable offence, 
  • prevent unauthorised production of replicas of antiquities, and 
  • enhance the process of verification of art objects. 
National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities, 2007:  to create a database of existing antiquities. But till date only  only five lakh objects of the estimated eight lakh have been recorded.

International indifference has not helped either: 
  • Import controls are lax in some countries such as Switzerland, making them safe havens for smugglers. 
  • Criminal laws in market countries have not deterred buyers and dealers of tainted art objects. 
  • Many museums and collectors conveniently overlook the doubtful provenance of antiquities, making it easier for traders — and themselves — to acquire stolen antiquities. 
India should:
  • Update its laws to place more stringent punishment for art theft. 
  • Work through international organisations such as UNESCO, persuade countries to give up their apathy. 
  • Encourage local communities voluntarily to report and register the discovery of artefacts with the help of experts.
  • Museums have to be improved to host antiquities in a meaningful manner and effectively perform their educative role. 
  • A well equipped, efficiently trained and dedicated investigating agency to track and prevent art theft is also critical. 
1. http://m.timesofindia.com/PDATOI/articleshow/15228337.cms
2. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article3640347.ece
3. "The Theft of history", Editorial, The Hindu, 10 August 2012.

1 comment:

  1. Or maybe we should do it like the FBI-have agents like Peter Burke and reformed(?) con-men like Neal Caffrey(If you watch White Collar,you'll know what I am talking about).