The illegal antiquities trade is generating big business in another, perhaps unexpected, location: India.
“The world has focused on the connection between cultural racketeering and terrorist financing with Daesh (Islamic State), but this risk extends far beyond Iraq and Syria."
According to experts, the problem remains mostly undocumented for several reasons, including lax laws both within India and internationally, as well as the failure by world heritage bodies and governments to adequately address the issue.
The ramifications can be both acute and severe, according to Tess Davis, Executive Director of the non-profit Antiquities Coalition.
“The Global Terrorism Index ranks India as one of the top ten countries with the most terrorist activity and it doesn’t require the sale of many artifacts to finance a major attack,” she explained to The Media Line. “The world has focused on the connection between cultural racketeering and terrorist financing with Daesh (Islamic State), but this risk extends far beyond Iraq and Syria, and far beyond the Middle East and North Africa.”
The connection between the black-market sale of antiquities and the funding of the Islamic State’s operations are well-known. This prompted the United Nations Security Council to adopt in 2015 a resolution recognizing the link between this illicit trade and the financing of terrorism.
India’s illegal antiquities trade has become particularly problematic in the United States, where a majority of loot smuggled in from abroad comes from the Asian country.
“In 2016 alone, $79,092,426 worth of India’s arts and antiquities came into the US, and that’s just as declared imports,” Davis said. “It’s impossible to know how many of these are looted and how many others came in undeclared. But we’re talking about big money. However, anyone thinking of buying one of these pieces should remember, while there is a large ‘legal’ market, there are few legal sources of ancient Indian art. Most pieces were hacked off from sacred sites at some point in their history.”
Kumar’s colleague Saxena believes that although India’s government is primarily to blame for the situation, world bodies such as the UN’s cultural organization, UNESCO, are part of the problem.
“One of the issues UNESCO displays is an over-centralization by Middle Eastern countries,” Saxena asserted. “Agendas are getting very polarized and funding is being directed towards specific political ends.
“I personally see very good reasons for why Israel and the US want out of UNESCO,” he said. “The biggest program for heritage at UNESCO is Unite For Heritage, and it does not even recognize heritage destruction outside of conflict zones. It’s factually and morally wrong to make that assumption.”