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India Plans Repatriation of Kohinoor, Colonial Artifacts from UK: Report


India is planning a repatriation campaign for artifacts dating back to the colonial era, including the controversial Kohinoor diamond and other idols and sculptures in museums across the UK, according to a British media report on Saturday.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper claims that the issue is one of the priorities of the Narendra Modi-led government and is likely to spill over into diplomatic and trade talks between the two countries.

While the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is reportedly in charge of the recovery of objects ‘trafficked’ from the country since independence, officials in New Delhi are believed to be working with diplomats in London to make formal requests to institutions that preserve confiscated artifacts as “war spoils” or collected by enthusiasts during colonial rule.

The lengthy repatriation work will begin with what are considered the easiest targets, small museums and private collectors, who may be more willing to voluntarily hand over Indian artifacts, and then efforts will focus on larger institutions and royal collections. the newspaper report. said.

Senior officials in New Delhi believe such historical artifacts can reinforce a strong national cultural identity, with Lily Pandeya, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, quoted as saying, “Antiquities have both physical and intangible value, they are part of the continuity of cultural heritage, community and national identity. By robbing these artifacts, you rob this value and break the continuity of knowledge and community.”

Also known as Koh-i-Noor or mountain of light in Persian, the Kohinoor was in the spotlight during last week’s coronation when Queen Camilla averted a diplomatic spat by choosing alternative diamonds for her consort’s crown.

The 105-carat diamond was in the hands of rulers in India before it ended up in the hands of the East India Company from the treasury of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and was then presented to Queen Victoria after the annexation of Punjab.

“The return of such a historically significant artifact would be ‘deeply symbolic’, according to ministerial circles in New Delhi, and it is believed that there is a political will to achieve such a symbolic post-colonial victory,” the report said.

The British Museum could face claims for its collection of Hindu statues and the Amaravati Marbles, which were taken from a Buddhist stupa by civil servant Sir Walter Elliot, and the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Indian collection could also be the subject of claims.

The paper describes this push to reclaim Indian artifacts as a “reckoning” with the country’s colonial past, with Govind Mohan, secretary of India’s Ministry of Culture, saying returning antiquities would be an important part of policy-making in India.

“It is very important for the government. The impetus for this effort to repatriate India’s artifacts comes from the personal commitment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has made it a high priority,” the newspaper quoted Mohan as saying.

There have been other cultural trends in recent years towards repatriation, with Greece seeking the Elgin Marbles and Nigeria seeking the Benin Bronzes.

Last year, Glasgow Life, a charity that manages the Scottish city’s museums, signed an agreement with the Indian government to repatriate seven stolen artifacts to India.

Most of these objects were removed from temples and shrines in various states of North India in the 19th century, while one was purchased after being stolen from its owner.

According to Glasgow Life, all seven artifacts have been donated to Glasgow’s collections.

In New Delhi, a senior ASI official said concerted efforts are being made to repatriate artifacts from abroad.

“Since independence, 251 artifacts have been returned to India, and 238 of them have been repatriated since 238,” said ASI spokesman Vasant Swarnkar.

“In addition, about 100 artifacts are being repatriated, from countries such as the UK and the US,” he told PTI.

Antiquities in India are governed by the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 which states that “No person except the Central Government or any authority or agency authorized on behalf of the Central Government shall be permitted to acquire any antiquities or art treasures …”.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.