About 150 Indian artefacts would be returned to the country by the United States in the next six months, according to a senior official.
IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi inspects some of the 157 artefacts handed back to India during his visit to the United States, Sepember 25, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo
Addressing a press briefing ahead of the third G20 Culture Working Group meeting in Hamp, secretary in the culture ministry Govind Mohan said India has discussed the 1970 convention extensively among all the countries.
“We are trying to develop a broad consensus that all these G20 countries should at least become signatories to the convention and certainly, India would be a big gainer from this process,” he said.
The 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property urges the parties to take measures to prohibit and prevent the illicit trafficking of cultural property.
Mohan said bilaterally also, India is working with countries like the United States.
“If you have seen the joint statement of the prime minister’s visit to the United States recently, there is a mention about a cultural property agreement between India and the United States, where the United States will do everything within the government’s power to intercept smuggled goods at the borders and return them expeditiously,” he said.
“We expect to get about 150 such artefacts from the United States over the next three to six months, which would be more than 50 per cent of all the artefacts that have been returned to India since independence,” he added.
Responding to a question, Mohan said the issue of restitution of cultural property, both bilaterally as well as through G20, is gaining traction.
“We are happy to report that we will have some consensus, some broad-based agreement on how this whole process has to be taken forward,” he said.
He said India is holding bilateral talks with other countries too in the matter.
“We are trying very hard to convince the United Kingdom to have this kind of an understanding with us. We will now also broach this with countries like France, Italy and Australia, where we will try to bring back the artefacts displayed in their museums that have gone from India over the last several years,” Mohan said.
He said the matter is being pursued both bilaterally and multilaterally.
“Our diligent efforts have finally taken us to a place where this whole thing has become part of the language of the prime minister’s joint statement. We are not there yet with respect to the other countries. But with the US having accepted this kind of a framework, we are hopeful that other countries will also look at something similar, if not identical,” he said.
The 150 artefacts that will be returned by the US also include some from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York.
Mohan said “they are willing to return” 15 artefacts in the first slot.
About the other artefacts that have to be returned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met), Mohan said, “The others are what were confiscated already by the US authorities and they are lying with the New York Attorney General’s Office. And we are making efforts to have our team go there, verify them and bring them back.”
The theme of the first G20 Culture Working Group meeting was protection and restitution of cultural property.
“This is very important for a country like India. You are also aware that there is a 1970 convention of the UNESCO which enjoins upon all the signatory parties to voluntarily return those artefacts belonging to other countries, which have either been taken down because of the colonial plunder or because of post-colonial misappropriation through smuggling and theft and other such means,” Mohan said.
The third Culture Working Group meeting under India’s G20 presidency began in Hampi on Sunday and will go on till July 12.
The delegates from G20 member countries, guest countries and international organisations will be part of the deliberations.