It is a matter of national shame that the looting of India’s archaeological sites continues unabated, leading to the loss of great treasures that hold the key to unlock the wisdom of its ancient mind. India is singularly fortunate in having a historical and cultural tradition that is not only extraordinarily rich but also extends back to millennia. Yet it is not always easy to access, with much lost due to the dimness of the past with cultures covered by the dust and grime of ages. Much of the time the only way the people of these past epochs and periods can speak to us is through their artifacts, the finds of modern archaeology. Yet archaeological sites and sites of accidental archaeological discoveries are also the places and occasions for plunder. An example of this is what occurred a few days ago, when workers digging at the site of a 2500-year-old city at Tarighat in Chhattisgarh found a stack of gold and copper coins, and, with the news soon spreading like wildfire, this nearly started a gold rush among the local villagers. The looting of archaeological sites is fuelled in part by the international trade in illicit antiquities and there is an antique smuggling mafia active in our country. It is unfortunate but true that many of these gangs, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh operate under the shelter of local politicians and police some of whom participate in the sharing of the ill-gotten gains. Local criminals are hand in glove with the financially and politically powerful figures, united to further the transfer of these artifacts to international market destinations.
Although the exact extent of the loss is difficult to compute, it may be estimated that thousands of such pieces are picked up and eventually shipped abroad. The problem of antiquities looting has grown out of all control in recent years, and the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act 1972 has been wholly inadequate to meet the challenges of smuggling and dealing in antique objects as has the international efforts to address it in the shape of the 1970 UNESCO convention intended to stem the flow of looted antiquities from poor but archaeologically-rich countries to rich market countries, rejected by many of the latter. It is therefore time to look into this matter and to frame a more adequate law to specifically prevent the looting.