Monday, March 2, 2009

Koh-i-noor diamond belongs to India

From The Times
March 2, 2009
The Syamantaka diamond belongs to India, Gandhi family says

The Crown Of Queen Elizabeth (1937) Made Of Platinum And Containing The Famous Kohinoor Diamond Along With Other Gems.

Spurred by a campaign to stop the sale of Mahatma Gandhi's spectacles and sandals in New York, the great-grandson of the Indian independence leader is calling for Britain to return the Kohinoor or diamond to India.

Tushar Gandhi, 49, praised the Indian Government for agreeing to try to halt the sale on Wednesday and Thursday of belongings of Gandhi, including a pocket watch, bowl and plate, at the Antiquorum auction house.

He urged the authorities to do more to return other treasures, including the Koh-i-noor, which was presented to Queen Victoria in 1850. “The Koh-i-noor diamond is something that rightfully belongs to India,” Mr Gandhi, who heads the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation, told The Times.

“If the jewels of Windsor were held by an Arab sheikh, then Britain wouldn't really like that. I'd love to see it back in India. Returning it would be atonement for the colonial past.”

Mr Gandhi has joined several Indian MPs in condemning the auction as an insult to Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1948 and is still widely revered in India.

Mr Gandhi has also been trying to raise private funds from Indian companies and wealthy individuals to buy the articles, which are expected to fetch about $300,000 (£210,000). With only 350,000 rupees (£4,860) raised, the Indian Government has agreed to try to prevent the sale.

“Whatever can be done is being done to ensure that articles are not auctioned ... involving all concerned stakeholders,” Ambika Soni, the Culture Minister, told the Press Trust of India on Friday.

In 2007 the Culture Ministry obtained a letter written by Gandhi shortly before his death after persuading Christie's to withdraw it from auction.

This time, Indian officials said that they would first try to block the Antiquorum auction by legal means, and then try to persuade the owner of the items to donate or sell them to the Indian State.

If the attempts fail they will try to persuade wealthy Indians overseas to buy the articles at auction and donate them to India.

Gandhi is said to have given the spectacles to a colonel in the Indian Army, telling him: “These gave me the vision to free India.” His pocket watch was given to his grand-niece Abha Gandhi, in whose arms he died. His sandals were given to a British army officer in 1931 before talks on Indian self-rule.

“The important thing is that we have succeeded,” Mr Gandhi said. “We take a lot of pride in being an ancient civilisation, with a rich cultural heritage, but if we're not going to protect it then what does it matter?”

Lost heritage

India is currently negotiating return of:

— Five sculptures in the British Museum

— Five astronomical tools from Egypt

— One sculpture of Thirthankar (Jain enlightened figures) from Washington

— One sculpture of Nataraj (dancing Shiva) from London

— One sculpture of Varah (god with the body of a man and the head of a boar) from Switzerland

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