Kohinoor: the infamous diamond

Kohinoor: the infamous diamond

INDIA may have a long wishlist of rare antiquities that were shipped out of the country by a succession of foreign rulers, particularly the British, but getting them back home would be easier said than done.
International law and conventions don't permit us to do so. " India enacted the Antiquities Export Control Act in 1948. But by then the British had taken away several invaluable artifacts," said a senior Archaeological Survey of India official.
The only way out is diplomatic persuasion and negotiations, says Nayanjot Lahiri, historian and dean of colleges, Delhi University. The other option is to shell out the current market price for the treasures.
The Restitution of Cultural Properties under the 1970 Hague Convention of the UNESCO allows this.
Egypt, which like India lost a lot of its antiquities, has consistently campaigned with countries for their return and to a great extent has been successful.
The country's Supreme Council of Antiquities led by Zahl Hawass has got back 31,000 such artifacts -- much of this has been achieved through the route of diplomatic persuasion and negotiations.
It's not that India hasn't ventured in this direction. It has, but only with limited success.
A old bronze Vishnu originally from Sagardighi, Murshidabad, was recently brought home from the US. The Hague Convention rules that a claimant country first has to establish the authenticity of its claim and provide enough documentation to support its assertions.
For instance, India must establish that an artifact it wants back home was genuinely taken away from a place within its present territorial limits. But because most of the treasures transported during the British period are still locked up in personal collections it becomes all the more difficult to get their source and history verified.
These only catch the public eye when they come up for auctions. Of late, India has joined a UNESCO- led campaign to get back its lost treasures. Among the others in this campaign are countries such as Bolivia, China, Greece, Iraq, Libya, Mexico, South Korea and Sri Lanka. Among India's dazzling treasures taken away by the British was the exquisite Kohinoor diamond now lodged in the Tower of London and the famous Sultanganj Buddha, presently in the Birmingham Museum. The list is long. Worse, what one gets to see stacked in museums during trips to the UK and the US is a mere 10 per cent of what had been taken away. A fabulously rich collection of unseen Indian treasure is with personal collectors abroad.
Similarly, a lot of antiquities found their way to the US between the 1920s and 1930s. The Boston Museum, for instance, has a priceless collection of sculptures from India followed by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The first batch of the Indian antiquities shipped out to Britain was the Sultanganj Buddha in 1862. Samuel Thorton, a Birmingham metal manufacturer, had paid 200 pounds for it. The second most valuable Indian artifact after the Kohinoor diamond, this Buddha is the largest metal figure of its kind housed in Birmingham Museum since 1867.

Sangeet Basu Biswas
BJMC 1st Year

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