In today’s Finshots, we take a look at the effects of Indian artefacts being smuggled out of the country.
But before that, a quick sidenote. Yesterday, ITC's shares hit an all time high and since so many people have been asking us to cover the stock, we did just that in a massive 30 minute explainer. Whenever you have the time for it, do take a look. It's pretty insightful. And with that out of the way, let's get to today's story.
“New York museum to return 15 antiquities to India.”
This was a headline in the Times of India last week.
But the headline doesn’t mention one thing. These antiquities were actually stolen from India!
Idols are pilfered from temples. Rock inscriptions are taken away from our heritage sites. Paintings are shipped across the seas. And they all find a home in a foreign museum for people to gawk at.
And in the past few years, museums from across the world have been handing these back to India. In 2021, the US returned 248 pieces worth $15 million in one of the largest-ever transfers.
Now before you go on a rant about how India is always looted by third parties, let’s first clarify that it’s a global phenomenon. When we did a quick search, we found that this sort of illegal trade in antiquities could be worth $6 billion a year. From the churches of Italy to the burial grounds of Mali. It’s a well-oiled syndicate that runs the show and it’s quite a lucrative illicit enterprise.
Also, the people who’ve stolen our antiquities are actually Indians. And we’ve had multiple kingpins running the show over the decades.
We had Vaman Ghiya in the 1970s and 80s. Ghiya was so brazen that he once apparently even told a buyer, “If you want the Taj Mahal, I’ll send it to you. I’ll take it down piece by piece.”
And then it was the turn of Subhash Kapoor in the 1990s and 2000s who brazenly shipped idols from temples across India to New York. Even customs officials in India apparently turned a blind eye to his illicit shipments.
Where are these folks now, you ask?
Well, Ghiya was arrested in 2003 and confessed to his crimes. But in 2014, he was let off by the courts in Rajasthan that said the investigation was shoddy. Ouch! Kapoor on the other hand was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a court in Chennai just a few months ago. And he’ll probably even be tried for his crimes in the US.
But while these smugglers run amok, what are we doing to prevent the theft of our national treasures?
Well, we do have The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act of 1972. And the goal here was to protect “antiquities” that might include manuscripts, jewellery, sculptures, and paintings that were more than 75–100 years old.
But as per historian Shalini Mathur, heritage theft gets clubbed under the same category as housebreaking theft. So the penalties and fines aren’t stringent enough — a maximum penalty of 6 years and a fine — to really deter people. When these dubious folks do the math in their heads, they’ll probably believe the rewards far outweigh the risks.
But even if we turn the screws on the law, it may not be enough.
And that’s because we haven’t even created proper records of our antiquities. See, while we created a National Mission for Monument and Antiquities whose job it is to track these valuable objects, it wasn’t successful in its endeavours. While estimates say that there are over 6 million antiquities in the country, only 1.7 million of these were accurately recorded.
So when items are stolen, we aren’t aware. No one files a complaint either. Listen to this — when the Indian Express dug into the matter, they found that since independence only 486 artefacts were reported missing. On the other hand, UNESCO says that more than 50,000 artefacts were taken out of the country till 1989. And an audit by an Indian organisation revealed that between 1992 and 2017, nearly 4,500 items were actually stolen from our monuments.
Will the cops really go after artefacts that don’t have a ‘missing report’?
Things get harder because smuggled art quickly finds its way across borders. And buyers are sometimes equally complicit in this nefarious activity. For instance, when Iraq and Syria were ravaged by war, American imports of ‘cultural property’ from these regions soared by nearly 100%. You’d imagine that buyers would’ve had a hunch that it wasn’t really a legal handover of these goods.
Even renowned auction house Sotheby’s has had its name dragged in the mud because of its associations with smugglers.
And the ‘art’ market globally isn’t really tightly regulated. There isn’t someone policing everything with a hawk eye. And the end result is that $6 billion worth of items are smuggled.
The big question is — what’s the economic impact if we were to bring back the antiquities from Museums across the world?
Well, you’d assume that the tourism impact would be significant. That people will flock to see the cultural artefacts in museums. That it’ll lead to local job creation in the vicinity — shops and restaurants can emerge.
But the problem is, no one’s visiting museums in India. In 2015, government-run museums only got 100,000 visitors each. And since we have around 800 museums in the country, that’s just 80 million people entering museums. In a country of 1.4 billion folks.
Sure, we don’t have the Mona Lisa to boast of. But, the problem is that museums haven’t been sold to us as exciting places to amble around and spend our weekends.
And frankly, the blame lies squarely with the museums. And probably with the government too. A 2011 report by a parliamentary committee actually called out the bad shape of Indian museums. For instance, the famous National Museum in Delhi has 26 galleries. But 7 of these were closed for a period of 3–4 years. And the Manuscript Gallery was closed from 2003 to 2011. Simply due to poor management. Also, only 10% of artefacts are actually put on display. And they’re not even changed to make things more exciting and interesting for visitors.
Why would visitors even be remotely excited about a museum in such circumstances?
Is it due to a lack of funds, you ask?
Well, we spend less than 0.1% of our budget on the Ministry of Culture. And that does seem like quite a measly allocation. But here’s the thing. The Ministry hasn’t even spent the little money it has prudently. In fact, an article in The Hindu in 2018 said that since the 1980s, more than ₹2,000 crores of funds were not used at all. So it probably has more to do with a “do not care” attitude towards museums than anything else.
So yeah, getting back our stolen artefacts is just the first step. We need to ensure that they get pride of place in our museums. And then we need to market the museums to domestic and foreign tourists alike. That’s the only way museums can make money and continue to protect the cultural heritage of the country.
Ditto Insights: Why Millennials should buy a term plan
According to a survey, only 17% of Indian millennials (25–35 yrs) have bought term insurance. The actual numbers are likely even lower.
And the more worrying fact is that 55% hadn’t even heard of term insurance!
So why is this happening?
One common misconception is the dependent conundrum. Most millennials we spoke to want to buy a term policy because they want to cover their spouse and kids. And this makes perfect sense. After all, in your absence you want your term policy to pay out a large sum of money to cover your family’s needs for the future. But these very same people don’t think of their parents as dependents even though they support them extensively. I remember the moment it hit me. I routinely send money back home, but I had never considered my parents as my dependents. And when a colleague spoke about his experience, I immediately put two and two together. They were dependent on my income and my absence would most certainly affect them financially. So a term plan was a no-brainer for me.
There’s another reason why millennials should probably consider looking at a term plan — Debt. Most people we spoke to have home loans, education loans and other personal loans with a considerable interest burden. In their absence, this burden would shift to their dependents. It’s not something most people think of, but it happens all the time.
Finally, you actually get a pretty good bargain on term insurance prices when you’re younger. The idea is to pay a nominal sum every year (something that won’t burn your pocket) to protect your dependents in the event of your untimely demise. And this fee is lowest when you’re young.
So if you’re a millennial and you’re reading this, maybe you should reconsider buying a term plan. And don’t forget to talk to us at Ditto while you’re at it. We only have a limited number of slots everyday, so make sure you book your appointment at the earliest:
1. Just head to our website by clicking on the link here
2. Click on “Book a FREE call”
3. Select Term Insurance
4. Choose the date & time as per your convenience and RELAX!