Home Arts India to launch ‘biggest repatriation campaign ever’ against UK for return of heritage looted during colonial rule

India to launch ‘biggest repatriation campaign ever’ against UK for return of heritage looted during colonial rule

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The Indian government hopes to repatriate thousands of objects held in British institutions, such as the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London, which have been removed from India over the centuries. Items seized during British colonial rule, from 1858 to 1947, will be the focus of the government campaign.

According to The telegraph of the day, “Officials in New Delhi are preparing what would amount to the biggest repatriation demand the UK would face, on a scale that would dwarf Greece’s demands for the Elgin. [Parthenon] Marbles”. Indian officials say artifacts taken during British rule of the Empire were removed “unethically”.

Institutions on the Indian hit list include the British Museum, which holds a collection of Hindu statues and the Amaravati marbles taken from a Buddhist stupa by civil servant Sir Walter Elliot, and the V&A which has Tipu Sultan’s mechanical tiger. Both institutions have been contacted for comments.

Tippoo Tiger was made for Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in southern India from 1782 to 1799. According to the V&A website, the “British East India Company … fought three wars against [the South Indian state of] Mysore before launching the final assault on Tipu’s capital, Seringapatam, in 1799. The ruler was killed as the army entered the city and looted the houses of its inhabitants… Tipu’s treasury was divided on the spot between the soldiers according to their rank, but the wooden tiger was shipped to London.

Powis Castle in South Wales, which houses treasures that once belonged to the Clive family, could also be subject to a restitution claim. “Amassed during the British colonization of India, these objects arrived in Wales and came to Powis Castle in the early 19th century. The museum houses over 1,000 objects from South and East Asia, dating from around 1600 to the 1830s,” the website says.

A spokesperson for the National Trust, which manages the castle, said: “Like any museum, the National Trust would follow the Museum Association’s Code of Ethics and the Arts Council’s guidance on restitution and repatriation in relation to any request made concerning his collection.”

Govind Mohan, secretary of the Indian Ministry of Culture, told the The telegraph of the day that the return of antiquities would be a key policy, saying: “It is of enormous importance for the government. The thrust of this effort to repatriate the artefacts from India comes from the personal commitment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has made it a top priority. Items removed from India after independence (after 1947) will also be searched. The Indian High Commission in London did not respond to a request for comment.

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