Showing results 1 - 12 of 49 for the tag: India.

March 5, 2015

The British East India company – putting looting into the lexicon

Posted at 1:46 pm in Similar cases

A lot of the stories of artefact repatriations focus on state sponsored looting, such as the massacres in Benin or Beijing’s Summer Palace. A second category is that of private individuals such as the Seventh Earl of Elgin who were also involved in the pillaging of ancient relics, although not normally on such a large scale as it is hard for a single person to have the same impact as an army.

There is a third category though, one which brought us the word Looting – a Hindustani slang phrase for plundering. The word rapidly entered the English vocabulary via the British East India Company, one of the world’s first multinational corporations. While the British East India Company & their unprecedented levels of looting have thankfully now gone, the problem still exists, although it manifests itself in different forms, such as terrorist groups & warlords who like the EIC maintain their own private armies & relatively unencumbered by laws will happy loot ancient sites for personal gain, or merely to deprive others of the ability to see the relics that were once there.

Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, transferring tax collecting rights to the East India Company.

Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, transferring tax collecting rights to the East India Company.


The East India Company: The original corporate raiders
William Dalrymple
Wednesday 4 March 2015 05.59 GMT

One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle.

The last hereditary Welsh prince, Owain Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, built Powis castle as a craggy fort in the 13th century; the estate was his reward for abandoning Wales to the rule of the English monarchy. But its most spectacular treasures date from a much later period of English conquest and appropriation: Powis is simply awash with loot from India, room after room of imperial plunder, extracted by the East India Company in the 18th century.
Read the rest of this entry »

November 4, 2014

Ethics of art repatriation and responsibility to protect heritage

Posted at 10:27 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

In this interview, Smithsonian curator Masum Momaya talks (amongst other things) about the patronising way that the British Museum continues to rebuff any claims made by India for the restitution of artefacts taken from the country during the time of the Raj.

The Sultanganj Buddha is one of many artefacts in the UK subject to ownership claims by India

The Sultanganj Buddha is one of many artefacts in the UK subject to ownership claims by India

Financial Chronical (India)

A sense of history
By Gargi Bhattacharya
Nov 03 2014

Smithsonian curator Masum Momaya on the ethics of art repatriation and the moral responsibility of countries to preserve their culture and heritage

A curator at the Smithsonian Institution, Masum Momaya has a 20-year experience working for gender, race and class equality, and her curatorial portfolio includes multimedia, multilingual and themed exhibitions. The Stanford University graduate and Harvard University post-graduate is in India to showcase her exhibition, Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, in collaboration with the American Center. Of Indian-American descent herself, Momaya prides herself on being able to situate her work in the best of both worlds. Excerpts from the interview…

As a curator of some experience, how would you say Indian heritage is represented in western museums?
Read the rest of this entry »

April 30, 2014

Australia’s NGA relinquishes Dancing Shiva ownership claims

Posted at 1:05 pm in Similar cases

The Australian National Gallery in Canberra has now accepted claims from India, that one of the items in their collection is a looted temple idol from the province of Tamil Nadu.

A legal notice was submitted by India on March 26th & the gallery chose not to contest it, meaning that it is automatically handed over by the Gallery to the Australian government. Hopefully this will be the start of a hasty return of it to India.

This is a marked change since last year, where the gallery publicly refuted all claims that the Dancing Shiva idol might be looted.

The idol is central to investigations into rogue dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is awaiting trial in India & subject to investigations within the USA.

Dancing Shiva idol at the National Gallery of Australia

Dancing Shiva idol at the National Gallery of Australia

The Hindu

Canberra gallery gives up claim on stolen idol
Updated: April 30, 2014 01:20 IST

The National Gallery of Australia has surrendered to the Indian claim that a Chola-era Nataraja that it acquired for (A) $5.6 million had indeed been stolen from a village temple in Tamil Nadu, paving the way for an early return of the idol to India.

The NGA, Australia’s foremost art institution located in the national capital of Canberra, had 30 days to claim its ownership of the imposing bronze Nataraja after receiving a notice from the Australian Attorney General’s Department under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986. That deadline expired on April 26.
Read the rest of this entry »

December 6, 2013

Once wars are over, shouldn’t the spoils of war be returned as an act of reconciliation?

Posted at 2:07 pm in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Following David Cameron’s questioning by the Chinese over disputed artefacts in the British Museum, this article looks at some of the other similar cases & how perhaps the ownership of cultural artefacts needs rethinking.

David Cameron signed up on Weibo - a Chinese Social Network

David Cameron signed up on Weibo – a Chinese Social Network

Khaleej Times (UAE)

Render unto Caesar…
6 December 2013

BRITISH PRIME Minister David Cameron’s visit to China has evoked at least one reaction from the Middle Kingdom that is going to find resonance in many parts of the world. It is the demand that Britain return the Chinese national treasures looted by the British Army during the sacking of the Forbidden City following a peasant uprising in the 19th century.

The British Museum alone has 23,000 such trophies lifted after an eight-nation Western troop brutally put down the uprising. Thousands more plundered works of art lie scattered around the world. The British Museum has refused to hand over its ill-gotten gains, claiming they have now become part of world heritage and can be enjoyed by more people if they are in a centrally located place like London. If location is the criterion, then the UAE can lay one of the best claims to housing the looted collection.
Read the rest of this entry »

September 18, 2013

Disputed Vrishanana Yogini returned to India by widow of collector Robert Schrimpf

Posted at 1:17 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

The Vrishanana Yogini which vanished from a village temple in India and was smuggled out of the country, to be sold to an art collector in Paris. The statue was eventually traced down by the Indian embassy & the widow of the collector who had purchased it. She agreed to return it & it was flown back to India last month. Tomorrow, it will go on display at the National Museum in New Delhi.

The part of the story that is somewhat unclear to me is why it took five years between her handing the statue to the embassy and it being returned to India.

India Today

Once stolen from a UP temple, 10th-century Yogini idol returns to India
Sourabh Gupta New Delhi, September 17, 2013 | UPDATED 22:23 IST

The image of this powerful Yogini was carved on stone nearly 1,000 years ago and idol of the buffalo-headed female deity was installed in a village temple in UP’s Bundelkhand region.

Then one day, the sculpture, weighing over 400 kg, vanished- stolen and smuggled and sold to an art collector in Paris.
Read the rest of this entry »

June 18, 2013

Feds sieze over $100 million in smuggled art from Subhash Kapoor

Posted at 2:07 pm in Similar cases

Federal agents in the USA have siezed artefacts valued at over £100 million over the last two years, from dealer Subhash Kapoor. Kapoor is currently awaiting trial in India & has been described as one of the world’s most prolific antiquity smugglers.

Los Angeles Times

Feds pursue Manhattan art dealer suspected of smuggling
Agents seize art from a Madison Avenue gallery owner, saying evidence could unravel the biggest antiquities smuggling network identified since the 1990s.
By Jason Felch, Los Angeles Times
June 11, 2013, 5:30 a.m.

Federal agents have seized an estimated $100 million in art over the last two years from a prominent Manhattan antiquities dealer they describe as one of the most prolific antiquities smugglers in the world.

Subhash Kapoor, a 64-year-old American citizen, awaits trial in India, where he is accused of being part of an antiquities smuggling ring that American and Indian investigators say spanned continents. U.S. authorities have issued their own arrest warrant for Kapoor, saying they have evidence he supplied stolen art to leading museums around the world.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 4, 2013

The British Museum refute their own floodgates argument & Cameron’s idea of returnism?

Posted at 2:16 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

This post does not add much that has not already been mentioned in previous posts, but what it does add is rather interesting.

Now, for a long time, one of the most common arguments raised against the return of the Parthenon Marbles is what is known as the floodgates argument. Essentially, this boils down to the idea that you can’t return anything from museums, because if you do it will open the floodgates & by the end of the process the museums will be emptied. This argument has been proven to be wrong many times over – artefacts already return nowadays on a regular basis & don’t open these floodgates. Furthermore, in places such as the US, where there have been laws relating to the return of native American artefacts for some time now, even museums with large ethnographic collections (i.e. those most at risk under this argument) have found that only a small proportion of their collection actually ends up having to leave the museum.

I have often highlighted (as have many others), that each case involving cultural property is very different to the other cases – here though, the British Museum takes the opportunity to point out the same thing. So… surely, if each case is completely different, then the floodgates argument can not exist in its current form. Why, if this were the case, would it be possible for one case to set a precedent that would immediately affect entirely different cases?

BBC News

1 March 2013 Last updated at 11:34
Parthenon Marbles and Koh-i-Noor: Cameron opposes ‘returnism’
By Trevor Timpson BBC News

The prime minister has been criticised after he opposed calls to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece and the Koh-i-Noor diamond to India.

Mr Cameron was asked if he supported returning the diamond on 21 February when visiting Amritsar in India.
Read the rest of this entry »

British recalcitrance over returning the Kohinoor

Posted at 9:23 am in Similar cases

More coverage of proposals for the return of the Koh-i-noor diamond to India, following British Prime Minister David Cameron’s remarks during his visit to India.

India America Today

British Recalcitrance on Restoring Kohinoor to India
Article | February 28, 2013 – 10:06am | By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni

San Francisco – On February 20, 2013, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron placed a wreath at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial in Amritsar thereby becoming the first serving British prime minister to voice regret about one of the British Raj’s bloodiest atrocities in India, entailing the massacre of unarmed civilians in the city of Amritsar in 1919.

On the downside, Cameron rejected any possibility of Britain returning the 105-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond, embedded in the British Queen’s crown and on display in the Tower of London.
Read the rest of this entry »

February 28, 2013

David Cameron’s simplistic and inadequate concept of returnism

Posted at 1:48 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

The British Prime Minster’s comments last week on the return of the Koh-i-noor diamond & the Parthenon Marbles have been criticised by Eddie O’Hara, the chair of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

Museums Journal

PM’s concept is simplistic and indadequate, say critics
Prime minister David Cameron has been condemned for a lack of understanding following his statement last week about restitution of cultural objects.

Cameron was answering questions on a state visit to the site of the Amritsar Massacre, where British troops killed 379 Indians, when he was asked if he thought that the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which is part of the Crown Jewels, should be returned as goodwill gesture. The prime minister said he didn’t believe in “returnism” and that wasn’t the right approach.

He added: “It’s the same question with the Elgin Marbles and all these other things. I think the right answer is for the British Museum and other cultural institutions in Britain is to do exactly what they do, which is link up with museums all over the world to make our collections – to make sure that the things that we have and look after so well – are properly shared with people around the world.”
Read the rest of this entry »

February 26, 2013

The Koh-i-noor and promoting Britain’s trade ties with India

Posted at 2:18 pm in Similar cases

David Cameron’s trip to India was ostensibly to promote trade ties with Britain. Reading between the lines, this could be seen more as: We see lots of money sloshing around in India nowadays & we want to see if we can get a slice of it.

The questions about the Koh-i-noor diamond can hardly have been unexpected though. Afterall, It happened on his previous visit to the country & it is well known that India would like the gem to be returned. This makes it all the more surprising that his response sounded as though little real thought had gone into it.

If Cameron wanted to promote trade with India, surely a gesture of agreeing to return the Diamond could form a great catalyst for this – although I have a feeling that due to its position in the crown jewels, the Prime Minister would probably not have the authority to return it anyway. At the end of the day though, its removal from the Crown Jewels would not be a massive loss for Britain – financially, our situation would be the same with or without it.

Like many other restitution cases, the Koh-i-noor diamond is a complex one. This editorial piece raises some of the issues, but there are many others on both sides. The article highlights the fact that Pakistan has allowed much of its own heritage to crumble & deteriorate in recent years – therefore, does it deserve to have other items returned. I would counter this argument though – there are no laws currently that allow other countries to remove artefacts for their own safety (without permission from the original owners), so should the fact that the artefact is already out of the hands of the original owners be used to promote such a viewpoint, which would not normally be considered a legal possibility.


24 Feb 2013
Jewel in the crown

THOUGH David Cameron may have been keen to promote trade ties on his recent visit to India, the British prime minister turned down a long-standing demand to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond. Mr Cameron felt returning the dazzling gem would not be “sensible”. Questions over the Koh-i-Noor’s rightful ownership stem from the legacy of Britain’s colonial past. Originally mined in southern India centuries ago, the fabled stone changed hands several times, passing through the treasuries of the subcontinent’s Hindu, Muslim and Sikh kings before being presented to Queen Victoria by the colonial government of India. Considered a trophy from perhaps the most prized of Britain’s realms, the diamond is today part of the crown jewels firmly ensconced in the Tower of London. But Britain was not the only European colonial power to have appropriated the cultural property of others. More recently, there was widespread looting of Iraq’s historical treasures following the 2003 United States invasion; the Americans did little as gangs of looters made off with priceless treasures in the anarchy following Saddam Hussein’s fall.

It is valid to ask if historical artefacts whisked away from former colonies and now sitting in Western museums will receive proper care if returned to their countries of origin. We in Pakistan, for example, have allowed our heritage to crumble. Also, it is true that ancient collections in the Louvre or the British Museum have become part of world heritage. But how many of the world’s people can simply hop on a plane to enjoy the treasures taken from their countries? Ethically, there is weight in the argument that treasures looted in the age of empire be returned to their countries of origin to right historical wrongs and allow the people of former colonies to better appreciate their own heritage, while placing responsibility on those countries to preserve the artefacts.

February 24, 2013

The Koh-i-noor diamond, the Parthenon Marbles & the Benin Bronzes – three disputed artefact cases

Posted at 7:31 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Kwame Opoku writes about British Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments on the Koh-i-noor diamond & the Parthenon Marbles during his trip to India.

Kwame Opoku (by email)


On the last day of his trade visit to India, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, ruled out the return of the Kohinoor Diamond to India and added that the same applied to the Parthenon /Elgin Marbles. (1)

Cameron thought it was best that these objects be left where they are in the care of the British Museum
Read the rest of this entry »

The Koh-i-Noor – Whose history is it a part of & who should own it?

Posted at 7:04 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

David Cameron’s point of view on the return of the Koh-i-noor diamond has had a lot of coverage in recent days. In many ways, the view that he gives is very similar to the line taken by the British Museum on items such as Parthenon Marbles & the Benin Bronzes – that the British are ideally placed to display these artefacts as part of collections from all corners of the globe, where they can be seen by many people. This reasoning always reeks of imperialism to me however – it is an entirely self-appointed role – the artefacts weren’t generally taken with this purpose in mind originally & giving the great museums of the world this role was never something decided by the original owners of the artefacts either. Surely, if the aim is for these works to be seen by as many people as possible, then India would be an ideal location anyway. England may once have been at the centre of the world, but with the rise of the Middle East, South East Asia & China, India is ideally placed to be a hub linking these regions. There is little in reality to link the Koh-i-noor to England, although it should be remembered that is an object that has always moved from place to place. No doubt, one day it will move on, beyond England’s borders, but where it ends up at that stage, is ass yet unknown.

Daily Star (Bangladesh)

Sunday, February 24, 2013
Sunday Pouch
Who owns history, Mr. Cameron?
Ashfaqur Rahman

Last Week, British Prime Minister David Cameron, during his official visit to India, made a disconcerting statement in Amritsar. He said his country would not return the 105 karat Kohinoor diamond, one of the largest in the world, which was taken in 1850 from South Asia as a “gift” to the British monarch Queen Victoria. He reiterated that the “diamond in the Royal Crown is ours.” “I do not believe in returnism, as it were. I don’t think it is sensible. The right answer is that the British Museum and other cultural institutions around the world should make sure that the things which we have and look after so well are properly shared with people around the world,” he said.

The history of the Kohinoor diamond is a fascinating one. It was mined in the thirteenth century in Andhra Pradesh, and was initially in possession of King Prataparudra in that region. Kohinoor stayed with the Mughals for a long time. Emperor Shahjahan affixed it on his Peacock Throne to add glamour to the piece. The Kohinoor fell into difficult times when it was seized by Persian King Nadir Shah when he attacked Delhi.
Read the rest of this entry »