By Vijitha Herath
Incidents of digging, stealing and selling of treasure have gone up in many folds during the recent past. The climax of these incidents is the theft of invaluable artefacts including ancient swords and gold coins from the National Museum. The stealing of these artefacts from the National Museum that is mainly established to conserve and display to the people artefacts that are invaluable and are part of our heritage indicates the seriousness of the escalating artefact stealing in the island. No one involved in the theft has been arrested yet. However, the IGP had stated the perpetrators would be apprehended within two weeks. One would suspect that he is able to predict the days the thieves would be caught after three months of the theft as the thieves are known to him. During the past 3 to 4 months, the media revealed more than 100 incidents of digging for treasure, stealing and selling of artefacts. The Director General of Archeology had recently stated that there were about 250,000 sites that are historically valuable, his department was not capable of protecting all these sites and had asked for public support to protect them. When the situation is such, the Minister of National Heritage talking about getting down Sri Lanka’s artefacts in foreign countries is nothing but a joke.
There is no doubt that artefacts are a component that cannot be separated from a nation’s historical heritage. What the country is losing by these illegal diggings and excavations, thefts and spurious trading is such irreplaceable heritage of our country. Whenever there is an escalation of any anti-social activity in the country the public tends to believe such acts have some sort of a connection with ruling political powers. The murders of a mother and her daughter and the drug racket at Kahawatta are instances with which such beliefs have been substantiated. Accordingly, the notion that the hand of the political authority is behind the large -scale digging of treasure and theft of artefacts cannot be ignored.
On the other hand various folk-lore regarding these artefacts and treasure encourage those political bigwigs who believe in such myths to engage in the racket. The belief that anyone possessing King Dutugamunu’s sword could be king for his lifetime is only one such example. The incident at Willachchiya in Anuradhapura is an instance that confirmed the public belief that the government has a hand in these illegal excavations and the theft of artefacts. The villagers detained a group of people excavating for treasure using backhoe machines. The villagers carried out their civic duty of protecting artefacts to the letter. However, the diggers were later identified as a group of STF personnel of the government security forces and the explanation from the government was that the STF personnel had been deployed there for some sort of duty. Thereafter, the police was involved and the STF personnel and the backhoe machine detained by the villagers were immediately released. However, the relevant parties failed to explain whether digging for treasure is a part of the duty of security personnel. The notion that was confirmed among the public was that treasure digging is given security from the highest in the government.
The government is confronted with a colossal financial crisis. The final tranche of the US$2.6 billion loan approved in 2009 from the IMF and obtained with the promise of fulfilling drastic conditions in the monetary sector is due in July. Paying of installments for the more than US$35 billion loans the Rajapaksa government has obtained in five years will have to commence in August. As these funds have been invested not in productive functions but for propaganda affairs the government would be in dire straits. In such a scenario a joke that is going round is that the government is making money from artefocts as a solution for the financial crisis.
This is a mere joke without any truth in it. For, there is no proof that the treasury has been enriched by the plunder of artefacts or digging of ancient treasure. The spoils would directly fatten the bank accounts or fill the security safes of those involved in the acts. Of course, this is gross stealing. A stealing not to fulfil hunger but a ‘royal theft’ carried out for perpetual power and to illegally amass colossal riches.Oscar Wilde defines a cynic as ‘a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ Isn’t the person who attaches a price to the artefacts that belong to the living and yet to be born generations and are the reflection of our heritage and identity ofour country and Nation, robs it to amass wealth, a cynic? Historical heritage has no value in capitalist administrative machinery that concentrates only on price and myths and that has profit not value as its only goal. It will not be possible to protect our historical heritage as long as a social system, that doesn’t take decisions on profits and financial gains only, is not established.