Antiquities abroad: What Indian, international laws say

Source: The post is based on the articles

“Antiquities abroad: What Indian, international laws say” published in the Indian Express on 14th March 2023.

“IE-ICIJ investigation of Indian antiquities in US museums” published in the Indian Express on 16th March 2023.

Syllabus: GS – 1: Art Forms, literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

Relevance: About protecting antiquities and challenges associated.

News: Private research has found that the catalogue of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, includes at least 77 items with links to a smuggler, who is serving a 10-year jail term in Tamil Nadu.

What is an antiquity?

The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 defined “antiquity” as any coin, sculpture, painting, epigraph or other work of art or craftsmanship and others that “has been in existence for not less than one hundred years.”

For “manuscript, record or other documents which are of scientific, historical, literary or aesthetic value”, this duration is not less than seventy-five years.

What do international conventions say about protecting antiquities?

The UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property defined “cultural property” as the property designated by countries having “importance for archaeology, prehistory, history, literature, art or science.”

The convention also said that “the illicit import, export, and transfer of ownership of cultural property is one of the main causes of the impoverishment of the cultural heritage of the countries of origin.

What steps have been undertaken by the government for protecting antiquities?

-Before Independence, an Antiquities (Export Control) Act had been passed in April 1947 to ensure that “no antiquity could be exported without license.”

-Item-67 of the Union List, Item-12 of the State List, and Item-40 of the Concurrent List of the Constitution deal with the country’s heritage.

– In 1958, The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act was enacted.

-The government also enacted the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 (AATA). It has been implemented since 1976. Under AATA, “Every person who owns, controls or is in possession of any antiquity” shall register such antiquity before the registering officer “and obtain a certificate in token of such registration.”

How India can bring back antiquities from other countries?

There are three categories of antiquities. These are a) antiquities taken out of India pre-independence; b) Those which were taken out since independence until March 1976, i.e. before the implementation of AATA; and c) Antiquities taken out of the country since April 1976.

For items in the first two categories, requests have to be raised bilaterally or on international fora. Antiquities in the second and third categories can be retrieved easily by raising an issue bilaterally with proof of ownership and with the help of the UNESCO convention.

What are the challenges in Retrieving Stolen Idols and Artefacts?

Non-availability of FIR: According to the UNESCO Convention, the first thing to prove the ownership of the artefacts of the country is the complaint report (FIR in India). But in many cases, there is no FIR in India.

Lack of proper data: Since Independence, only 486 artefacts have been reported missing from the monuments preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). But there is a large gap between what is reported as missing and what is surfacing now in foreign museums.

The inefficiency of the ASI: a) 2013 report of CAG highlighted that the agency “has no vigilance or monitoring cell to function as a deterrence against theft of antiquities”, b) the 2005 report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee highlighted that the ASI’s inability to access the latest technology.

Must read: Retrieving Stolen Idols and Artefacts: Initiatives, Challenges and Way Forward – Explained, pointwise

What should be done for protecting antiquities?

Mirdha Committee (in 1984) had recommended that the ASI “should be accorded the status of a scientific and technical institution and provided autonomy in its functioning”. This should be fulfilled.

-The government should address the “lack of resources” issue with Indian Museums.

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