Bone smuggling had been rampant in India for decades, if not centuries. 
Bone smuggling had been rampant in India for decades, if not centuries. (Photo: iStock)
  • 1. The History Behind ‘Bone Smuggling’
  • 2. The Demand & Supply Chain aka 'The Red Market'
  • 3. India: A Human Bones Factory For Foreign Nations
  • 4. What Do These Foreign Countries Require the Exported...
  • 5. India’s Bone Factories Continue to Run Silently
Decoding India’s Secret Trade of Bone Smuggling

Last week, the news of 50 human skeletons being discovered on a train, running from Ballia in Uttar Pradesh to Siliguri in West Bengal, took the country by surprise and piqued everyone’s curiosity.

After all, it isn’t everyday that one hears of human bones being ‘smuggled’ out of the country. The ‘smuggler’, Sanjay Prasad, told the police that the skeletons were being ‘smuggled’ out of the country – the best bet being Nepal or Bhutan. Prasad also confessed to having carried out this morbid activity in the past. But the question remains: Who wanted so many skeletons and where did they come from?

The Quint reached out to several police officials, medical students, and several other persons with first-hand information on this kind of a case, and we found out that at least up until the early 2000s, bone smuggling, or even corpse smuggling, wasn’t a one-off anomaly. It was more common than you would think.

  • 1. The History Behind ‘Bone Smuggling’

    Bone smuggling had been rampant in India for decades, if not centuries. According to The New York Times best-selling author Scott Carney – in a 2009 investigative report in Wired – India had exported about 60,000 skulls and skeletons in 1984.

    In 1984, India had exported about 60,000 skulls and skeletons!

    This number was fairly consistent up until 1985, when the Indian government outlawed the export of human remains, CNN reported . The government’s decision to “outlaw” the export of human parts came after being pressured by human rights groups, which called the trade “unethical” – and also due to a rising number of grave thefts and even murders.

    Up until the practice was “outlawed”, it was for the most part considered legal. The article by Carney quoted a former president of the Indian Association of Exporters of Anatomical Specimens, Bimalendu Bhattacharjee, who told the Los Angeles Times in 1991:

    “For years, we ran everything above board. No one advertised, but everyone knew it was going on.”  
    Bone smuggling had been rampant in India for decades, if not centuries. 
    Image used for representation. 
    (Photo: iStock)

    The same article claims that at this point of time, Kolkata's bone factories were the most notorious within the Indian market and took in an estimated $1 million a year.

    “But it couldn’t last. The graveyards of West Bengal were being picked clean, and the lure of ready money soon attracted criminal elements. The industry shuddered to a halt in March 1985, when a bone trader was arrested after exporting 1,500 child skeletons,” Carney wrote in his article.  

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