The UK has rejected India’s fresh demand to return its priceless artefacts like Kohinoor diamond and Sultanganj Buddha “stolen” during the British colonial rule, citing a law that prevents it from giving back the items.
“The British Museum Act 1963 prevents our national museums from removing items...the government has no plan to change the law,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said.
It made the statement in response to an appeal by Gautam Sengupta, Director—General of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The ASI is planning to join a campaign with the support of UNESCO and other countries to get back the artefacts.
In an interview to The Independent, Mr. Sengupta had said, “As efforts so far to reclaim stolen treasures have proved futile, UNESCO support is required for launching an international campaign to achieve this end” as India’s treasures held abroad are “too long to handle” and require “diplomatic and legal campaign“.
Decisions taken by museum trustees
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said that there is a strong public feeling on the restitution debate and decisions are taken by museum trustees in which politicians do not interfere.
“It’s a long—established principle in the UK, supported by successive governments.” The British law only permits return of human remains and objects lost during the “Nazi era“.
Mughal era’s Kohinoor diamond, Sultanganj Buddha, rechristened as the Birmingham Buddha, Amravati railings, a series of limestone carvings dating back to 100 AD, Saraswati idol, a sculpture of the deity from the Bhoj temple, are among the items on the ASI’s list.
There is a mounting pressure on the erstwhile colonial countries to restitute heritage items as “not only India, various countries like Mexico, Peru, China, Bolivia, Cyprus and Guatemala also voiced similar concern” and are planning to join the UNESCO campaign, the ASI chief said.