India has one of the largest antiquities theft and smuggling countries in the world. This has been serious since India became a British colony. It still continues. Not only in India, but also in many of the poorer African countries, the rich countries of Europe still possess idols and artifacts that were hidden and acquired for free during colonial rule.
The best example is the British-owned Kohinoor diamond. The 105-carat Kohinoor arrived in Britain in the 19th century. The Mughal emperors, Iranian warriors, the rulers of Afghanistan, and the Maharajas of Punjab owned the Kohinoor – a 2016 BBC article describes it.
The Kohinoor, now located in London, is part of Queen Victoria’s royal jewels. Not only India, but also Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan are claiming the Kohinoor. But India should be seen as the first party. In 2016, the Indian government told the Supreme Court that the diamond had not been stolen by Britain and therefore had no rights. This provoked much criticism and the subsequent overthrow of the government.
Plunder of the colonies
Human rights activists around the world have been protesting the return of antiquities stolen by colonial nations. This is especially true of identity movements that follow the Black Lives Matter movement.
Activists have tried repeatedly in recent years to block exhibits of Native American heritage objects in Congo, Chad and other parts of Africa, he told The Guardian.
Many European countries have already realized the need to return seized items in the past. In 2020, the European nation of the Netherlands returned to Sri Lanka and Indonesia one million antiquities they had acquired.
In 2017, France took a similar stance. France has promised to return all seized antiquities from the African country of Burkina Faso within five years. African countries like Egypt and Nigeria have been increasing a similar demand for years. But many rich European countries do not universally accept it as a policy.
In late 2020, UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nations, announced a campaign. The campaign, launched in the name of the true value of art, was against the usurpation of the world’s cultural heritage. What is the value of the soul of a nation? That was the text of the campaign. UNESCO estimates that $ 10 billion worth of objects are smuggled into the world each year.
What India has recaptured and demanded
Great Britain owns the majority of archaeological sites in India. Besides the Kohinoor, India also wants a wooden statue of Tipu Sultan. They have no policy on returning it. Until now, institutions have returned to many countries only to be automatically reimbursed.
In early 2020, India bought three idols from the UK. These are 15th century idols of the Hindu gods Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana. Idols were part of the Vijayanagara Empire in Tamil Nadu. It was identified as stolen and returned by the British police. Great Britain returned four idols between 2019-20.
In 2016, the US made a significant transfer. The United States returned 200 antiquities worth about $ 100 million during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States. These were previously obtained after the United States caught a smuggling ring.
Most of the items were seized by US authorities from Subhash Kapoor’s collection, which was smuggled into Indian antiquities, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Following Subhash’s capture, the Met Museum in New York returned several artifacts. India is reported to have reclaimed more than 190 archaeological sites in the last year alone.
The value of saving?
According to UNESCO, poverty is one of the main reasons for the increase in smuggling of antiquities from India. Archaeological Excavations In India Not Exactly Preserved Or Protected – Research Equality Banerjee Writes On UNESCO Website
Between 1977 and 1979, 3,000 artifacts were smuggled out of India. By 1989, around 50,000 artifacts had been stolen from India. This is according to UNESCO figures. Government figures are not available.
Most of the people of poor origin live in archaeological sites in India. They are the ones who find a lot of value. Most of them are farmers and ordinary people. They do not know the value of the property. They will be handed over to the intermediaries of the smuggling gangs. Banerjee writes in the article that efforts should be made to raise awareness.
In India, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is the agency responsible for the preservation of archeology. It has been around since the time of British rule. There are 3697 protected centers in the country under ASI. They also manage 48 museums. ASI oversees all 27 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country.