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General Studies 1 >> Art& Culture



1. Context

The catalogue of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, includes at least 77 items with links to Subhash Kapoor, who is serving a 10-year jail term in Tamil Nadu for smuggling antiquities.

2. About Antiquity

  • The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, of 1972, implemented on April 1, 1976, defined "antiquity" as "any coin, sculpture, painting, epigraph or other work of art or craftsmanship; any article, object or thing detached from a building or cave; any article, object or thing illustrative of science, art, crafts, literature, religion, customs, morals or politics in bygone ages; any article, object or thing of historical interest" that "has been in existence for not less than one hundred years".
  • For a "manuscript, record or another document which is of scientific, historical, literary or aesthetic value", this duration is "not less than seventy-five years".

3. International conventions

  • 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 Declaration further 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 of such property and that International cooperation constitutes one of the most efficient means of protecting each country's cultural property.
  • After that, in 2000, the General Assembly of the UN and the UN Security Council in 2015 and 2016 also raised concerns on the issue.
  • An INTERPOL report in 2019 said that almost 50 years after the UNESCO convention, "the illicit international traffic of cultural items and related offences is sadly increasingly prolific".
Sword of Chartapati SivajiMaharaj

4. Indian Laws

  • In India, 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.
  • Before Independence, an Antiquities (Export Control) Act had been passed in April 1947 to ensure that "no Antiquity could be exported without a license".
  • In 1958, the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act was enacted.
  • Then in 1971, Parliament saw an uproar over the theft of a bronze idol from Chamba and some important sandstone idols from other places.
  • This, along with the UNESCO convention, prompted the government to enact the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 (AATA), implemented on April 1, 1976.
The AATA states, "it shall not be lawful for any person, other than the Central Government or any authority or agency authorised by the Central Government in this behalf to export any antiquity or art treasure... No person shall, himself or by any other person on his behalf, carry on the business of selling or offering to sell any antiquity except under and by the terms and conditions of a licence".
  • This licence is granted by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
  • After the AATA was implemented, the Centre asked traders in antiquities and art objects to declare their possessions of antiquities by June 5, 1976, and individual owners by July 5, 1976.

5. Provenance of antiquity

Provenance includes the list of all owners from the time the object left its maker's possession to the time it was acquired by the current owner.

6. Ownership 

  • The UNESCO 1970 declaration stated that "The requesting Party shall furnish, at its expense, the documentation and other evidence necessary to establish its claim for recovery and return".
  • The first thing to prove the ownership is the complaint (FIR) filed with the police.
  •  In India, the problem with missing antiquities is that in many cases, there is no FIR.
  • But other proof, like details mentioned by reputed scholars in research papers etc., also works.

7. Checking fake antiquities

  • Under section 14(3) of the AATA, "Every person who owns, controls or has any antiquity" shall register such antiquity before the registering officer and "obtain a certificate in token of such registration".
  • So far, the National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities launched in March 2007, has registered 3.52 lakh antiquities among the 16.70 lakhs it has documented, to help in the "effective check" of illegal activities.
  • This is a very small portion of the total number of antiquities in the country, which the government estimates to be around 58 lakhs, according to a statement by the Ministry of Culture in Parliament in July 2022.

8. Can India bring back antiquities?

There are three categories to take note of :
  1. Antiquities taken out of India's independence
  2. Those which were taken out since independence until March 1976, i.e. before the implementation of AATA and
  3. Antiquities were 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.
  • For instance, the Maharashtra government on November 10, 2022, announced it was working to bring back the sword of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj from London.
  • This sword was given to Edward, the Prince of Wales (the later king Edward VII) by Shivaji IV in 1875-76.
  • Several antiquities, from Vagdevi of Dhar (MP) to the Kohinoor Diamond, to Amaravati marbles to the Sultanganj Buddha to antiquities related to Rani Laxmibai and Tipu Sultan are currently abroad.
  • 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.
  • The Conviction of Subhash Kapoor has further given us a chance for India to bring back smuggled antiquities.

For Prelims & Mains

For Prelims: Antiquities, UNESCO, Kohinoor Diamond, the sword of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, of 1972, UNESCO 1970 Convention, INTERPOL reportAntiquities (Export Control) Act, the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972, Archaeological Survey of India
For Mains:
1. What are Antiquities? Discuss the need for strengthing Antiquities laws in India. (250 Words)

Previous year questions

For Prelims:

1. Consider the following statements (DSSSB JE CE 2019)

  1. 'Punch Marked' coins were created between the 7th and 6th centuries BC.
  2. India's first coins were silver punch-marked coins with a design that circulated during the Vedic period.

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

(a) 1 only   (b) 2 only    (c) Both 1 and 2    (d) Neither 1 nor 2

1. Answer: (a)

2. Which of the following factors are common to the coins issued by Indo - Greek and Kushana rulers? (Karnataka PSC Prelims 2017)
A. Effigies of Greek and Indian deities
B. Bilingual coins
C. Use of Gold and Copper
D. Portraits of Kings
Choose the correct answer from the options given below:
A. D only    B. B and D only    C. A, B and D only     D. A, C and D only
2. Answer: C
For Mains: 
1. How do you justify the view that the level of excellence of the Gupta numismatic art is not at all noticeable in later times? (Mains 2017)
Source: The Indian Express

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