Valuing our heritage
18th April was celebrated as ‘World Heritage Day’ by the UNESCO in a bid to make people aware of as well as value their cultural heritage. As discussed earlier cultural heritage of a nation includes the artifacts handed down from one generation to the next as well as intangible attributes of a society.
It is often discussed how the ‘Kohinoor Diamond’, ended up with the British royals. But there are numerous such precious, and much older as well as valuable, statues, manuscripts and other artifacts that have been smuggled abroad. Greed of a few people has led to the loss of such valuable assets and we have barely touched the tip of the iceberg in this well networked global theft chain.
Historically it has been the nature of conquerors to plunder and steal valuable assets and India has been at the receiving end of many such conquests. However, what sets apart the recent looting is what is happening at present is an organised crime aimed at filling the pockets of a few. As the IPP founders explained “historically this was a much-localised issue. Now it’s part of a well-oiled global network (including art-dealers, local-goons, shipping agents, hawala operators, auction houses, etc)”.
Every year thousands of artifacts are being stolen. It takes a few years before the theft comes to light and by that time the product has travelled half way around the world to some unknown destination. The illegal nature of the trade makes it difficult for the authorities. In addition, due to the absence of a dedicated department to keep a record and trace such stolen art pieces many such precious treasures are lost forever.
How does this international chain of illegal smugglers work? It is a well-oiled machinery that uses a sophisticated network to loot the wealth of nations. Once the smugglers identify the idols to be plundered thieves are employed to loot the said artifacts. The stolen goods are then smuggled to Hong Kong where false documents are made. These art pieces are then shipped to places like UK, US, Australia and countries in Western Europe. These are then sold for millions of dollars by art dealers and auction houses. (Source: http://ipp.org.in/modus-operandi/)
In recent times, people are becoming more conscious of the rich cultural heritage and the need to preserve such treasures for the future generations. The Internet has brought a wealth of information to the common masses thus making them aware of the events of the world. The artifacts have both cultural and emotional value. Hence, bringing them back to the communities and places they rightfully belong to restores the pride of the people and breathes a new life into the place.
A group of warriors decided that it is time to get back India’s lost treasures back to where they rightfully belong. Their labour of love is called ‘India Pride Project’. Their website (www.ipp.org.in) details their short and long-term goals aimed at restitution of the lost heritage and stopping the loot altogether respectively.
They are of the opinion that we as a people have ‘let’ this happen. It is the apathy of the citizenry that has emboldened thugs and smugglers to loot a nation’s wealth. Lack of dedicated government agencies to tackle the issue is just one part of the problem.
In an attempt to make people aware of the cultural theft and ways to deal with it IPP is set to conduct a three-city lecture series beginning today (More details here: http://ipp.org.in/april/). When people are more alert and pressurise the government then things automatically start falling into place. After all, it is the duty of every citizen to take pride in his/her cultural heritage and do what it takes to get them back.