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  • Writer's pictureSpiced Cranachan

Reclaiming a History

More often than not, I have found that it is uplifting and inspiring stories which hold my attention the most. It is easy to slip into a mentality where negative news is the norm and I suppose it is for this reason that I find myself more effectively engaged by stories which provoke joy.

One story in particular has caught my attention recently and has remained firmly in the foreground of my thoughts: Glasgow is to return seven stolen artefacts to India.

As the grandchild of Indian immigrants and a born-and-raised Glaswegian, I could not help feeling drawn to this story. It is one thing to have your interest captured, but another thing entirely to have your heartstrings pulled, especially during only a minute-long segment. I have felt the effects of my dual culture my entire life and have felt almost split between two very different worlds.

And here was a story that connected my halves.

This repatriation is the first of its kind from a UK museum to India. The artefacts are both historically and emotionally tied to their country of origin, with many having been stolen from shrines and temples across India and dating back as far as the 11th century.

Even more inspiring was the reactions of those involved from both sides of the agreement. The Head of Glasgow Museums stressed the importance of building a relationship between the two communities and establishing trust. The significance of this moment for both Glasgow and India was not forgotten; indeed, it seemed to be a key factor in the repatriation. The Acting Indian High Commissioner acknowledged the place of these artefacts in India’s heritage while also expressing thanks to Glasgow for making the deal possible.

A fleeting story but one that struck a chord with me.

It was genuinely touching seeing how important this moment was to both sides, and how significant this moment will be in the history of both countries. Repatriation is a highly debated topic and one which often stirs intense emotions among those involved. There are conflicting attitudes over how best to handle repatriation, with many arguing the pointlessness of returning items stolen well in the past, and others stressing the need to have their property returned no matter the length of time it has been missing.

Cruel things tend to be said in these arguments. I have heard some people mock the countries of origin for being unable to keep those items initially, or for lacking the resources necessary to maintain such items should they be returned.

Many seem to forget the emotion tied to these artefacts. They are pieces of history and part of a nation's cultural identity. Surely, the morally correct attitude is repatriation? Many artefacts stolen during colonisation or wartime should be returned - as was the common expectation after the Second World War, when artwork taken by Nazi Germany was returned to their original owners regardless of who controlled their country at the time of the theft. This reflects basic property laws: stolen or looted property must be returned to its rightful owner.

To refuse to repatriate artefacts stolen under colonialist regimes perpetuates the ideology that those who were colonised are inherently inferior, and unable to care for their own property. To continually patronise these countries, first in the theft and then centuries later in the refusal to repatriate, is arguably inhuman. Most museums with international collections are located in the Global North: France, Germany, England, the US. What message does this send to the rest of the world? Only Eurocentric countries are able, deserve the right to exhibit these artefacts?

The world is a different place to what it once was. Our attitudes towards culture and international relations have changed over time, and our collections should reflect contemporary beliefs.

This is an argument that will continue to evolve and evoke emotion for the foreseeable future, I am sure. In the meantime, I will be happy with this simple gesture from Scotland. The news of this repatriation fills my heart and I am incredibly proud to be a member of both communities involved in this blossoming relationship.


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