Since 1981, at least 20 robberies have occurred at the Bangladesh National Museum
Six artefacts that went missing from the Bangladesh National Museum a decade ago still remain traceless, and the police case filed in this regard has stalled.
In March 2010, 26 rare objects – including two gold and 24 bronze coins – were lost from the gallery no 21 of the Department of History and Classical Art of the museum. The following year, 20 relics were found, but six are still missing.
The then-secretary of the national museum Alam Ara Begum filed a case with Shahbagh Police Station. The then-deputy keeper Nure Nasreen, assistant keeper Saifuzzaman, and three other museum employees were also suspended.
However, they got back their jobs as the negligence allegations against them were not proven.
When contacted, Khondoker Mostafizur Rahman, director-general of the museum, told The Business Standard (TBS) that they have yet to recover the six missing artefacts.
"The final report of the police case says if the rare objects are found, the case will resume," he added.
The museum at Shahbagh near the Dhaka University campus is home to more than one lakh centuries-old artefacts and archaeological objects. The museum often reports thefts and missing incidents of the rare relics.
Since 1981, at least 20 robberies have occurred at the museum. An inquiry in 2010 about such an incident revealed that 26 rare objects went missing from the national museum. Attempts were made to replace the museum's empty spots with replicas to cover up the discovery.
Archaeology Professor Sufi Mostafizur Rahman of Jahangirnagar University told TBS that there would be pressure on the authorities if the probe reports over such theft incidents came to light.
"But the inquiry reports are kept under wraps. And no one has been tried for theft so far. Therefore, the incidents do not stop," said the professor.
Sufi Mostafizur also has an objection to appointing government bureaucrats as the director-general of the museum.
He said, "They [the public officials] move to elsewhere after three years. Are they the people who understand the importance of archaeology? Are there no such people in Bangladesh who understand archaeology who could be the director of the museum?"
Previous thefts at the museum
Between 1981 and 1982, 144 ancient relics, valuable and rare idols were stolen from the national museum when it was in Nimtali, Old Dhaka. Several historical dishes were also lost, and they still remain missing.
In 1982, 12 gold ornaments of the Medieval Period were stolen from the museum. The objects were on a mobile exhibition bus. Although a case was filed in this regard, the ornaments were not recovered.
In 1991, the handle of the lion-shaped throne used by the Dighapati Maharaja was stolen. The thieves entered the museum by breaking iron grills on the third-floor and then broke the showcase where the object was on display.
In 2007, 145 archaeological artefacts were collected from five museums of Bangladesh to display at the Guimet Museum in France. An agreement was signed between the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and the Embassy of France in Dhaka, in this regard.
On 25 December of that year, during the first shipment of the antiquities, two Vishnu idols were lost before leaving Dhaka to Paris by air cargo.
A case was filed against 13 lower-ranking employees of the Civil Aviation Authority over the incident. The Rapid Action Battalion later recovered the broken pieces of the idols in Savar. The case is now stalled.
Though the Vishnu idols had insurance, the insurers did not settle the claim.
In March 2010, several antiquities were stolen from the Natural History Department's archives on the fourth floor of the museum. They include ten pieces of ivory as well as the mummies of three finch birds and one yellow bird. The theft remains unsolved, and the antiquities are missing too.
Top officials unwilling to face the press
Senior officials at the Bangladesh National Museum have been approached several times for comment on artefact theft and missing incidents, but they have declined to do so.
Professor Sufi Mostafizur Rahman told TBS that he had been outspoken about the issues, which has made many dislike him.
"I will keep saying the right thing in the future too. The bottom line is that such incidents will not stop until qualified people assume the office," he added.
The museum is currently under the surveillance of 128 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras.