We are losing our national treasures It is slowly — but definitely — being taken away from us as we allow centuries of history and culture to be lost. On July 6, the police seized a truckload of artefacts, most of them dating back to the 2,000-year-old Gandhara civilisation, as they were being taken through the Korangi area in Karachi. They were reportedly headed for Sialkot, where an attempt to smuggle them abroad was likely to have been made. It is thought that such an effort to send the artefacts abroad through Karachi may have failed.
There have been major seizures of Gandhara artefacts in the past, but what we do not know is how many may have been successfully smuggled abroad, both in the case of the Gandhara relics, as well as those from Mohenjodaro, Mehergarh and other sites. We also know that there have been museum thefts aided by museum staff. Some of these artefacts are now displayed at some of our museums, claimed by experts to be replicas of the original items, which were presumably stolen at various points and sold either to private collectors or illegally taken to other lands.
What is also shocking is the way these artefacts are handled by the authorities after retrieval. The episode in Karachi illustrates this. The police — unaware of the value of the Buddha artefacts — hurled them down to the ground from a considerable height of the truck, damaging some of the items. These can never be restored. In other cases, workers who accidentally dug up statues during construction work in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Taxila area broke the figures considering them to be ungodly ‘idols’. In Swat and other places, carvings in rocks have been destroyed by the Taliban and even official collections are often badly looked after. We need to build a greater respect for these items and inculcate in people’s minds a value for the heritage they represent. This is as important as seizing consignments and making efforts to stop smuggling.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2012.
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