Indian people’s demand to bring back the Kohinoor diamond hits the news headlines frequently. With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the people of India again raised their demand to bring back the Kohinoor diamond, an Indian antiquity. It is not only about the diamond, but there are other antiquities too, like Shivaji’s sword and Vagdevi of Dhar, which are placed in London’s museums, and a demand is made time and again to bring those back.
This law post seeks to answer the question of whether India has a legitimate claim to bring back its Kohinoor diamond and other antiquities lying in different countries.
What Is Antiquity?
Antiquity has been defined under section 2(a) of the Antiquity and Art Treasure Act, 1972. According to this, antiquity means any coin, sculpture, painting, epigraph, or object that is a piece of science, literature, art, religion, or historical interest and has been declared so by the central government of India. Such things must not be less than 75 years of age.
These antiques, like the Kohinoor diamond, Shivaji’s sword, and Vagdevi of Dhar, are cultural property and the heritage of a nation. These are not only unique and valuable but also very significant in retaining the cultural identity and history of a nation. Every country has the right to protect and preserve its cultural property and heritage.
Laws Governing Antiquities
The right to preserve and retain one’s cultural property has been recognised internationally and nationally.
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) 1970 convention is an international effort wherein the member nations agree to prohibit and prevent the illicit import, export, and transfer of ownership of cultural property.
The convention aims to promote the return and restitution of cultural property and to promote peaceful societies where solidarity is strengthened.
India is also a party to the convention and, in line with this convention, has promulgated a national law as the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act of 1972. This Act seeks to regulate the trade in antiques, fraudulent smuggling, and the trade in antiquities and their acquisition, which have been illegally taken from India.
To determine whether India could bring back the diamond, one has to go back in time and see how ownership of the diamond was passed.
History of the Kohinoor Diamond
According to the sources, the Kohinoor diamond was extracted from the Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh by the Kakatiya dynasty from around 1100 to 1300.
After that, the diamond went to each succeeding ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. With the Mughal invasion, the diamond was occupied by the Mughal rulers. The diamond has also been given a reference in the Babarnama of Babur.
With the advent of the British in India, the diamond was taken from India to Britain. At that time, Diamond was with the king of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It is said that with the annexation of Punjab, the diamond was manipulatively taken from his five-year-old son, Maharaja Duleep Singh.
Legal Analysis of India’s Claim on Kohinoor Diamond
India may raise its claim on the diamond on the basis of the Art and Antiques Act (1972) and the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
With regard to the transfer of ownership of the diamond, it is said that it was not illegally taken or extracted from India but rather given as a gift. There is no evidence to prove that the diamond was illegally or forcefully taken away from India. Therefore, the demand can’t be raised under national law, as this law would only help in cases of illegal or forceful transfer.
However, the demand may be raised under Article 15 of UNESCO’s 1970 convention. This Article allows state parties to enter into special agreements so as to bring back cultural property that has been taken away from the country of origin for whatever reason, even before the enforcement of this convention. Article 15 of UNESCO’s 1970 convention would be applicable even when the transfer has been made by way of a gift. Therefore, it is only by virtue of this Article that India may take its diamond back. It is through talks, diplomacy, and strong bilateral relations that India may persuade London to enforce such a special agreement.
The historical, cultural, and market value of these antiques can’t be denied. The Indian Government is making consistent efforts to bring back its antiques. Agreements have also been signed with the US government during the recent Prime Minister’s visit to the USA. Therefore, one should not be completely hopeless about India getting back its Kohinoor diamond.
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