Daily Current Affairs – 27th April, 2016DEVENDRA VISHWAKARMA
Indian Culture: Apathy towards Antiquities
Why in news?
- The centre recently told Supreme Court that the Kohinoor diamond was neither “forcibly taken nor stolen” by British rulers, but given as a “gift” to East India Company by rulers of Punjab.
- And also added that India should not stake claim to Kohinoor because other countries may start pressing India for return of their items.
An historical study of India’s stand on Kohinoor:
- Till the 1980s, India did not ask for the return of the Kohinoor diamond.
- By 2000 it changed its position and tried to “satisfactorily resolve” the issue.
- However, in 2010, after U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron visited India, it again changed its stand.
- To a question raised in Parliament in August 2010, the government categorically stated that Kohinoor was not covered “under the UNESCO’s Convention 1970 dealing with the restitution of cultural property”, and hence the question of recovery “does not arise”.
- Now india is not interested in recovering Kohinoor from the UK government.
What does UNESCO’s convention say?
- The 1970 UNESCO Convention prohibits illicit trading and transfer of ownership of cultural properties including antiquities.
- However, it does not cover any recovery claims of antiquities either smuggled or exported before 1970.
- This instantly puts a significant number of antiquities lost by colonised countries beyond any hope of return.
Indian government as per this convention is not interested to recover Kohinoor and hence that statement was given to the Supreme Court recently.
A greater worry in India is its apathy towards antiquities
- It seems unlikely that India will get the Kohinoor back.
- But the greater worry is its apathy towards antiquities.
- While countries such as Italy have not only successfully pursued stolen artefacts abroad but also effectively protected them locally, India, which is equally archaeologically rich and a victim of illicit trading, is far from it.
India lacks information on theft
- India lacks anintegrated database of existing and stolen artefacts.
- Providing sufficient information regarding theft cases has been a struggle in India.
A case study of Italy:
- Comparing this with the accomplishment of the cultural heritage squad of Carabinieri, the Italian armed police force.
- It has built an impressive database of about 1.1 million missing artefacts.
- Set up in 1969, the Carabinieri is the most acclaimed police force in protecting antiquities.
- The officers are well-trained in art history, international law, and investigative techniques. In the last 45 years, the force has recovered more than 8,00,000 stolen artefacts within the country.
- The squad is also known for its aggressive pursuit of restitution cases.
Indian investigative agencies are poor performers in this regard:
- At the national level, the Central Bureau of Investigation handles antiquities theft as a part of its special crimes division.
- The division also handles cases of economic offences as well as those relating to dowry deaths, murders, and so on.
- It has not built the capacity to deal with stolen antiquities.
- A few State governments have special wings as part of their police force, but these are also understaffed and unqualified.
A non helping national law:
- The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972, mandates compulsory registration of antiquities.
- However, the process is so cumbersome that not many antiquities are registered.
- There is also fear that registration would attract unnecessary government attention, and prevent the legitimate transfer of the objects.
- As a result, a large number of private collectors do not register antiquities in their possession.
- Though the Justice Mukul Mudgal committee submitted a report recommending changes in 2011, the government is yet to take action.
A bad state of India’s museum:
- The state of India’s museums is another sad story.
- The Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s Performance Audit of Preservation and Conservation of Monuments and Antiquities in 2013 had scathing remarks about the country’s poor acquisition, documentation and conservation systems.
- The audit also raised serious concerns about the “discrepancies in the number of antiquities reportedly available in museums” including the National Museum in Delhi.