India is blessed with a rich cultural history and owns some of the most historically relevant artefacts and antiquities dating back to the Gupta period ( 5th – 6th Century AD). This has in the past made India an attractive target with the Mughals and the British having stolen numerous artefacts and unfortunately, they continue to be smuggled out from India till date in the absence of a focused policy that prevents smuggling of the artefacts and helps India bring back its stolen heritage.
In a move that aims to curb the smuggling of precious artefacts, the Archaeological Survey of Agra, Chennai and Lucknow are conducting an Antiquity Campaign where people will be allowed to make a registration for their respective articles during the campaign period.
Since keeping antique articles without registration is illegal, the owner of the articles must register which is mandated under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act 1972. The 15-day campaign will see the owners getting a registration certificate and the ASI will also maintain a proper database of every antique article.
Basant Kumar Swarnkaar, Superintendent, ASI said: “People can get any antique article registered which is more than 100 years old, be it antique sculpture, statues, wooden article or any manuscript. These articles will be properly assessed followed by the registration process.”
Additionally, the ASI will also put up an exhibition from September 25 to September 28 for those interested to showcase their antiquities, their articles will be showcased in that exhibition.
The NDA government has made bringing back of Indian artefacts and cultural heritage one of the hallmarks of their foreign policy which is evident from the fact that in 2017 itself, just 3 years into the tenure of PM Modi, the government had brought back more stolen antiquities in 3 years than the UPA government in 10 years. The bar set by the successive UPA governments was so low that during the tenure of UPA-2 only ‘one’ Indian artefact was retrieved by the then UPA government and during UPA-1 not a single Indian artefact was retrieved by the government. In contrast, when PM Modi visited the US in 2016, the latter agreed to return 200 antiquities to India.
Earlier this year, a cache of ancient Indian antiques seized by the US Immigration and Customs Department from arrested art smuggler Subhash Kapoor, have been identified by Indian archaeologists and could soon be returned to the country. Presently, Subash Kapoor has been extradited to India and is currently facing trial for theft of various precious objects. Following a communication from the Indian Consulate General in New York, ASI Additional Director General Urmila Sant visited the US where she was shown 327 objects out of which 251 were found to be of historical significance. Most of the objects were returned by various museums as they were gifted by Subash Kapoor.
The artefacts are set to be returned to India in a year or two. In September 2018, the US repatriated 2 antique statues worth over $500,000 which were stolen from India – a sign of the rich cultural ties between the two countries. After completing the process to retrieve 17 rare antiquities of Indian origin from the US, the ASI is determined to bring back more stolen items from foreign shores.
While India’s cultural heritage was profoundly ignored by the successive UPA governments, the Narendra Modi government has sought to alter the status quo and restore India’s rich cultural and ancient legacy and the campaign by ASI is perhaps just one of the first steps in its bid to retrieve India’s stolen heritage.