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The ‘Dancing Girl’ of Moenjo-daro

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Yasmeen Aftab Ali

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A tree without its root will die. A nation without the knowledge and binding to its roots will change into something not represented by its roots. "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee" (King James Bible "Authorized Version", Cambridge Edition). Heritage is the legacy that was passed on to us. It is the legacy we must pass on to our children. The world as we know today has disvalued heritage. It is been destroyed by neglect or destroyed by wars.

The National Trust of Australia (WA) defines heritage as "... something inherited from the past and valued enough today to leave for future generations." Yes, heritage may be natural like our rivers, forests, so on and so forth. It may also have a cultural face like structures, places of worship, places of architectural magnificence, and artifacts. If these artifacts are removed and taken away by other nations; as a result of war as often happens, or taken on 'loan' and not returned - they rightfully belong to the owner irrespective of the time lapsed. The stance of archaeologists under the UNESCO Convention of 1972 is that the original owner of a relic or artifacts will be deemed to be the country where the relic was discovered.

There seem to be no examples by Pakistan to make an effort to unearth where its relics are today if taken away to retrieve it and bring it back. It was only the former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who, under the Simla Agreement in 1972, succeeded in recovering the King Priest statue back from India. According to the research paper by Elisabeth C. L quoting S. J Marshall "Moenjo-daro and the Indus Civilization (London 1931, vol 1 page 356-357) states, "the statue was found in Room 1, Block 2 Section B of the Dk Area in the Moenjo-daro." Besides the physical description, it adds that the statue had one eye inlaid with shell, when found. The "Priest King" is now on display at the National Museum, Karachi. The other statue is of the "Dancing Girl."  Excavated from Moenjo-daro, now on display at Victoria and Albert Museum's Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata, India;  the statue is said to be originally found from the ruins of a house in 1925, from the ninth row of houses of Moenjo-daro. It is 10.8 cm tall, a fine piece of art. The nude figurine, resplendent with bangles up till the elbows, smartly coiled hair, the hand placed on one leg pushed forward, the other on a hip; a saucily provocative bold stance.

Both the "Priest King" statue and the bronze one of the "Dancing Girl" of Moenjo-daro were transported by British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler to Delhi in 1946 for an exhibition. After its creation, Pakistan sought the return of both relics (published Times of India Feb 3, 2014). 

The "Dancing Girl" figurine never came home after that.  It is only at the Sindh Festival held recently that brought the attention towards the return of this artifact. According to a local newspaper, "the provincial government is sending a request to Islamabad for asking India to return the famous statue of the Dancing Girl, which is in possession of the Indian authorities since 1946" (2014-02-02). 

It was this very principle of owning heritage on behalf of the Brahmans that propelled Edward Law, 1st Earl of Ellenborough, to prompt high-caste Brahman and Rajputs of the Bengal Army to undertake the first Afghan War,  which was in fact a forward policy of the then British Indian Empire. As per code of the Hindus it was a taboo to cross the river Indus. Sultan Mahmood of Ghazni had taken away the Gates of Somnath Temple to Ghazni - his capital. It was suggested to the Bengal Army to go and uproot the Temple gates from Ghazni and bring them back and restore them at the Somnath Temple. Subsequently they were brought back under the supervision of the invading Bengal Army. Romila Thappar writes in her book, "The History of India" (Vol. 1 pg 232-233), "The effects of destruction of Somnath are etched in the generations of all Hindu Brahman mindset. They shudder for the day revival of Islam takes place."

Yet another example is the Indian demands to the UK government to return its Kohinoor Diamond that it was forced to hand over in to them in the colonial era.  As recent as February 7, 2014, the Deccan Herald reported rejection by UK of the Indian demand citing a law "that prevents it from giving back the items."  However, in a very interesting move later, in a repatriation ceremony at the New York Consulate of India, some artifacts were returned to India, reports Al-Jazeera (16 Jan 2014); these artifacts include two sandstone sculptures. They are of the Hindu deities Vishnu and Lakshmi. The third one is reputed to be "a black stone sculpture of Buddhist icon Bodhisattava." The statues hail from 11th and 12th centuries. The newspaper goes on to state, "Reports say the idols were stolen from temples across the states of Rajasthan, Bihar and West Bengal."

The principle applied here then is that the original owner of a relic or artifacts will be deemed to be the country where the relic was discovered. Takers cannot be keepers. Pakistan needs a national organization dealing with heritage preservation. To the best of my knowledge Pakistan does not boast of one. This is sad considering that out of a total of 704 cultural heritage sites listed on UNESCO's World Heritage List; Pakistan has six of them on this prestigious page. But this is not all. There are gardens, old architectural houses (those in Interior Lahore are a case in point), mosques of grandeur, beautiful Hindu and Jain temples, Sikh gurdwaras, yet these beautiful sites are dilapidated and falling apart owing to negligence. Although certain laws do provide for preservation of some sites, not all buildings and places are professionally catalogued.

Coming back to the Dancing Girl Statue of Moenjo-daro; when does she come home?

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book, "A Comparative Analysis of Media and Media Laws in Pakistan.' She  tweets at @yasmeen_9



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