Glasgow becomes first UK museums service to repatriate artefacts to India

Glasgow becomes first UK museums service to repatriate artefacts to India

Glasgow Life Museums has signed an historic agreement which will see it become the first UK museums service to repatriate artefacts to India.

Glasgow Life, the charity which manages the city’s museum collections, today (Friday 19 August 2022) welcomed dignitaries from the High Commission of India for a transfer of ownership ceremony to return seven Indian antiquities. 

Following the meeting at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Government of India and Archaeological Survey of India delegates were given the opportunity to view the objects at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, where they are safely stored. The delegation included: Sujit Ghosh, Acting High Commissioner, High Commission of India, London; Jaspreet Sukhija, First Secretary, High Commission of India, London; and Bijay Selvaraj, Consul General of the Consulate General of India, Edinburgh. 

The transfer of ownership ceremony took place after Glasgow City Council’s City Administration Committee approved a recommendation made in April by the cross-party Working Group for Repatriation and Spoliation to return 51 items to India, Nigeria and the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux tribes in South Dakota, US. 

Glasgow Life Museums has been working on the repatriation of the Indian artefacts, alongside the High Commission of India in London, since January 2021. The antiquities include a ceremonial Indo-Persian tulwar (sword) which is believed to date back to the 14th century and an 11th century carved stone door jamb taken from a Hindu temple in Kanpur. 

Six of the objects were removed from temples and shrines in different states in Northern India during the 19th century, while the seventh was purchased following a theft from the owner. All seven artefacts were gifted to Glasgow’s collections. 

Duncan Dornan, Head of Museums and Collections, Glasgow Life, said: “Glasgow has led repatriation efforts in the UK since 1998, when the city agreed to return the Lakota Sacred Ghost Dance shirt to the Wounded Knee Survivors’ Association. The transfer of ownership of the Indian antiquities symbolises a significant step for Glasgow, with the city continuing its positive repatriation history by ensuring these cultural artefacts are placed back in the hands of their legitimate owners. 

“Credit must be given to the High Commission of India and British High Commission for their cooperation and support. We look forward to continuing our work with the Indian authorities to deliver the safe return of these artefacts.” 

Bailie Annette Christie, Chair of Glasgow Life and Convenor for Culture, Sport and International Relations for Glasgow City Council, said: “The repatriation of these objects is of great historical and cultural importance to both Glasgow and India, so it’s a privilege to welcome Indian dignitaries to our city for such a momentous occasion. 

“The agreement reached with the Government of India is another example of Glasgow’s commitment to addressing past wrongs and remaining transparent when explaining how objects arrived in the city’s museum collections.” 

Sujit Ghosh, Acting High Commissioner, High Commission of India, said: “We are delighted that our partnership with Glasgow Life has resulted in a decision to restitute Indian artefacts from Glasgow museums to India. These artefacts are an integral part of our civilisational heritage and will now be sent back home. We express our appreciation to all the stakeholders who made this possible, especially Glasgow Life and Glasgow City Council.” 

The visit of the Indian delegation marks another milestone in Glasgow’s efforts to return more than 50 cultural artefacts to the descendants of their true owners; the largest-ever repatriation of objects from a single collection in Scotland. 

Glasgow Life Museums is also repatriating 19 Benin bronzes to Nigeria. This work has been ongoing since it was established the artefacts – acquired as gifts, bequests and from auction houses – were taken from sacred sites and ceremonial buildings during the British Punitive Expedition of 1897. In June, Glasgow Life Museums welcomed a delegation from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments to Kelvingrove Art Gallery to discuss the transfer of ownership of the artefacts and future dates for their return. 

Twenty-five Lakota and Oceti Sakowin ancestor and cultural items – sold and donated to Glasgow’s museums by George Crager, an interpreter for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show who visited the city in 1892 – will also be handed back to the Cheyenne River Sioux and Oglala Sioux tribes of South Dakota. 

Some of these objects were taken from the Wounded Knee Massacre site following the battle of December 1890, while others were personal items belonging to named ancestors or are ceremonial artefacts. All of the items embody the belief, history and values of the Oceti Sakowin.