'P illaging the temples and tombs is the second oldest profession'. Politicians would dispute the archaeologist's wry humour, but that the dead have been priceless is almost indisputable, for the thriving antiquities smuggling network in the country.
'Trading' of priceless sculptures, miniature paintings, manuscripts, jewellery, as also statues from temples, is carried with impunity in the country. The Bihar Police estimates almost 3,600 Buddhist relics and antiquities have been stolen (including 18 Buddha statues from Patna Museum in September) from the state in 2005-06 alone. Scaringly, thousands of such cases go unreported as several precious artefacts lie scattered in old monuments, unprotected and undocumented. The law (Antiquity and Art Treasure Act, 1972), where the maximum imprisonment is not more then six months, has obviously not been a deterrent. While art collectors in the Western countries have been the beneficiaries of this deplorable activity (Sothebys has been accused of encouraging a smuggling network and London has been labelled as the 'Smuggling Capital of the World'), urgent corrective measures are also required on the home front to cull the menace.