Heritage for sale: Stop the loot of India’s past

Heritage for sale: Stop the loot of India’s past

Cultural Heritage, Indian Ministry of Culture, UNESCO, United Nations Security Council, ISIS, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI
The 159 kg “Vishnu Lakshmi” sandstone sculpture worth over $1.5mn, is seen at a repatriation ceremony at Indian consulate in New York, on 14 Jan 2014. Stolen from Gadgach temple in Rajasthan, it was one of Interpol’s most wanted stolen works of art.
This is the second of a three-part article on heritage-mafia, terror-funding and national-pride.

In March 2015, the University of Chicago organised a conference in New Delhi titled, “The Past for Sale: Protecting India’s Cultural Heritage”. Scholars, archaeologists, historians and activists from across the world discussed India’s heritage “being sold on the international market without legal authorisation”. In short, Indian heritage being looted and smuggled abroad.

While global experts got together to discuss this deep-rooted plunder of India’s heritage, there was one group of people conspicuous by their absence, the Indian Ministry of Culture, or for that matter, any of its agencies (the Archaeological Survey of India, National Museum, etc).

On the one hand, it may seem bizarre that global experts convened in Delhi, but our officials couldn’t find the time to join them. On the other hand, in a resource-constrained country like India, one could argue that heritage theft is not a serious enough challenge. One could hypothesise that the government has other “more important” priorities.


UNESCO estimates that 50,000 idols and artefacts had been stolen out of India till 1989. Advocacy group Global Financial Integrity estimates that the illegal trade of arts and artefacts is worth Rs 40,000 crore a year. As an example, a single sandstone sculpture stolen from Madhya Pradesh was worth Rs 100 crore in the international market.

These are not isolated incidents though. India has lost thousands of heritage objects to the international heritage-mafia. Idols, maps, manuscripts, paintings, murals, etc., are looted en-masse and find their way to New York, London, Zurich and other “playgrounds for the rich”.

India has the dubious distinction of being one of the biggest victims to this trade—a self-denigrating victim, which has, for long, allowed perpetrators to loot our heritage. However, awareness of this rare, even disgraceful, honour is missing in most Indians’ minds. In one word, there’s the problem—apathy.


In February 2015, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) expressed its concern that the Islamic State (ISIS) “are generating income from engaging directly or indirectly in the looting and smuggling in cultural heritage items (…) to support their recruitment efforts and strengthen their operational capability to organize and carry out terrorist attacks”.

As a response, the UNSC adopted its Resolution 2199, formally recognising art and antiquities trafficking as a terrorist financing tool.

In August 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued an advisory stating, “Purchasing an object looted and/or sold by the Islamic State may provide financial support to a terrorist organization and could be prosecuted under 18 USC 233A.”

German Commissioner for Culture (Deputy Minister) Monika Grütters, made a public statement earlier this year, stating she is working towards curbing such financing by pushing for stricter regulations on artefacts entering Germany. She made it a point to emphasise to the international community, “We must act against this trade.”

Interpol has a dedicated Art-Crimes Wing based in Lyon, France. They have an enviable database of about 50,000 stolen heritage objects. Enforcement authorities across the world use this database on a regular basis to track and recover stolen heritage.

India unfortunately, neither contributes to this database, nor leverages it to track heritage-crimes.

Read AlsoIndia needs to bring heritage-criminals to justice


While most of these responses and sanctions were directed towards curbing terror-funding, we must not forget that the heritage-mafia is a globally networked ecosystem. It really does not matter if an artefact was looted from Cambodia, Egypt or India. Most of these looted-objects share the same shipping-agents, trade-routes, hawala agents, auction-houses and art-dealers.

It is an intricate network of regenerative tentacles, where one tentacle feeds the other. When you cut one off, another grows in its place.

The only way out is to have an impenetrable defence mechanism. The only way is to enforce, with an iron hand, when any such perpetrators are caught.

If we don’t, then as the United Nations says, we should be ready for our heritage to be sold, for bombs to be bought.

(To be continued: In the concluding part tomorrow, we will discuss a comprehensive strategic response to the threat of heritage-destruction.)

Anuraag Saxena is based in Singapore. He is passionate about Indian heritage and culinary history, and leads India Pride Project (www.ipp.org.in). He tweets at @anuraag_saxena

There is 1 Comment

The root of the problem is the lack of self esteem. The business of black market in stolen Indian Antiquities revolves around the Masjid Jahan Numa at Delhi as does much other crime. The Police, the Babus, Archeologists, collectors, museums and others know about it. But it is a no go zone and caters to the profits of the powerful and the influential including the secular political elite. You can specify what you want and its present location. It will be stolen and stored under the Masjid and delivered for the final instalment of the negotiated price. You can also peruse a catalogue of items in stock and order from this. The only requirement is that you should be sutiably referenced and networked. Corruption has its roots in centuries of rule by alien oppressors who looted. plundered and raped India. This left India hopeless and bereft of self esteem in progressive steps of devolution. As a result there is no collective revulsion or revolt against State Extortion which is over ridden by the imperative of self preservation. India's grotesque Constitution plagiarized from the Colonial Government of India Act (1935) and George Orwell's "Animal Farm" that enshrines inequality under law, exceptions to the rule of law, "The many Nations Theory", and the non accountability of the State and its pampered, over empowered ,unproductive employees has exacerbated the situation. This has nothing to do with the Dharmic religions except in the fantasy of alien religions who, having already exterminated the hereditary religious priesthood and confiscated the temples, religious freedoms, educational institutions, lands water bodies and commonwealth of the People of Dharma in 1921-23, set the stage for the Indian Republic to follow through in 1949 when it turned the People of Dharma into Third Class citizens and, in 1959 confiscated the religious freedoms and the Commonwealth of the People of Dharma in 1959 in formerly prosperous, and well governed Dharmic Princely States where corruption was a rarity until they fell into the maws of the Nouveau Kleptocracy of the Indian Republic.. For example, the Vijayanagar Empire was bereft of corruption and corruption, when discovered, was met with capital punishment. There is the famous incident where Purandara Dasa (The Carnatic Composer) as a Tax Officer collected money through extra legal means to build a temple that the Empire was famous for. His sentence was commuted from death to imprisonment because he used his money for Temple construction rather than for himself. In recent times, former Vijayanagar Viceregalities such as the Princely States of Mysore and Travancore were notably devoid of corruption and evidenced a scale of prosperity, human, social and industrial development far in advance of the unfortunate British subjects and the even more unfortunate Dhimmies of Caliphate in India until they fell into the maws of the Quota-Extortion Raj established for the Indian Republic by the Cambridge, Columbia, St Stephen's, Madras Christian, Elphinstone and Presidency indoctrinated PANGOLIN* WOGs. Today, India has collapsed to 135 out of 172 countries in Human and Social Development and 143 out 0f 172 countries in internal peace and stability (UNDP 2015) because of India's vicious anti National Quota-Extortion Constitution that condemned India to perpetual Civil War for the benefit of alien rulers who were replaced by their PANGOLIN* successors. The dream of every Indian boy and girl is to become an alien. A Judge, a Bureaucrat, a Policeman, a Journalist or a Crony Kleptocrat and shake the Pagoda Tree. It is the ambition of every Tribe and British made “Caste” to achieve Constitutional Backwardness so that their progeny may become aliens with the greatest of ease and sans merit. .This is the Indian Constitution and laws, and the manner in which the British stooges have modified it since 1949 to plunder wealth, opportunities and the future from the weak and helpless for preferred alien religions, castes, tribes and the kleptocracy at work. *Note: PANGOLIN: An enemy of India who believes in inequality under law, exceptions to the rule of law and persecution of some for the benefit of others. At present, the sole purpose of the Indian Republic, Constitutional or otherwise, is to pamper and provide for certain constitutionally preferred sections of society who the British found useful to hold and exploit India at the cost of those who the British hated and persecuted. The Pangolin is a creature that is unique to India and feeds on ants that are known in nature to be industrious and hard working if not quite as fruitful as bees who flee to better climes. (PANGOLIN is an acronym for the Periyar-Ambedkar-Nehru-Gandhi-Other (alien) Religions-Communist Consensus that usurped the British Mantle and has worn it with elan to loot, plunder, and rape India since 1921 and re write History and laws to their exclusive benefit since 1947)

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