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Why India should support the return of the Elgin Marbles

The Elgin Marbles & what their return would represent is something that has implications for many people – not just Greeks, archaeologists & museum curators. Around the world are numerous restitution cases, each different in its own way, but each having a significance for the people involved. During the last year for instance, publicity has been generated by various [1] artefacts [2] from India that people would like returned (or even just an acknowledgement of the real ownership.

Livemint [3]

Why India should root for the return of the Elgin marbles
Manidipa Mandal – Thursday, July 09, 2009 1:25 PM

“Both sides stand on shaky ground,” prevaricates NYT critic Michael Kimmelman, in today’s Business of Life lead story.

The Greeks, never in fear of racial stereotyping, have been emphatic in their demands. (What’s to worry about? Everyone just knows they are the guys with the big weddings, the voluble chatter, the long community lunches, dinners and and dances, the quick and loud tempers a la Hollywood cabbies — and all that surprisingly, uncharacteristically subtle and contemplative, ancient art and literature, as well as balanced modern views on them.)

The British have been characteristically (dare I say, imperially, even imperiously?) starchy and condescending in their response.

Critics beyond these national fences are, well, fence-sitting, paternalistic or indignant. Or appealing to nobler English sentiments of fair play.

Indian art and culture critics seem to hardly have taken notice, though — and yet they should. For the sake of the peacock throne and the Kohinoor that has become a ‘Crown Jewel’ in quite the wrong crown. They sit in British hands, like the stigma of imperialism. Gazed on out of context, a continuation and reinforcement of the myth of exotic East, of bejewelled India peppered with elephants on every street, a cow and a turbaned fakir at every traffic light (a la Tintin), a peacock in every garden. May I venture to suggest that the backdrop of a real Delhi, plagued equally by BMWs and beggars, would be more culturally educational for gazers-upon?

The argument of “world heritage” for “global consumption” falls flat to my ears. Why not argue the same about Nazi relics? Because of course to the victor belong the spoils, and the right to write history. Yet surely imperialism is a memory that should be as severely ousted as genocide? Or do I, a Third World citizen of a developing nation, speak out of turn?

To those who argue that it sets a poor precedent which could empty prized collections: I agree – that is the point, precisely. The precedent for emptying out poorer collections has long been set, and the need is for perspective, preferably a global and non-parochial, anti-imperial one, to be restored. No longer is Greece, or for that matter India, a beleaguered nation incapable of protecting its heritage and waiting for divine (White missionary) intervention for their salvation. Where, for that matter, was Big Collector Brother when Buddha fell to bits in Afghanistan? No, the white man’s burden begs to be put down, and aspirants to global citizenship must acknowledge the entirety of the globe as capable hosts of culture… or there is no democracy in this world.