According to British media sources, India is pondering whether to throw its diplomatic weight behind Greece in its efforts to have the Parthenon Sculptures returned to their country of origin by the British Museum.
The diplomatic initiative would be part of a broader push by India to support “victims of colonial appropriation” by supporting the efforts of formerly colonized countries to achieve the return of their artifacts.
For decades, Athens has been calling for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, which have been housed in London within the British Museum since 1816. The Greek government argues that their extraction by Lord Elgin was unlawful, as Greece was at that time under the yoke of the Ottoman Empire, and was unable to consent or object to the removal of culturally important objects.
Could India help Greece seek the return of the Parthenon Sculptures?
According to officials from India’s Ministry of Culture, India plans to establish a casual coalition of countries that advocate for the repatriation of cultural artifacts.
Lily Pandeya, who holds the position of Joint Secretary in India’s Ministry of Culture, was cited in The Telegraph as saying “We would seek a consensus between the nations, and as the G20 is the most influential forum, hope to achieve tangible outcomes. We can be a voice at that table for other nations facing these issues.”
“During our presidency, we want to be champions of the global south, those countries who are so strongly affected by issues relating to heritage, such as trafficking, and who in the past were on the receiving end of colonial appropriation,” Pandeya added.
India is reportedly planning to launch its own campaign for the return of Indian artifacts currently in British possession, particularly those in the collection of the British Museum. The Indian government is especially interested in securing the return of the Kohinoor diamond, a collection of Hindu statues, and the Amravati Marbles.
Officials in Athens who are dedicated to the return of ancient Greek artifacts to the country of their origin would certainly welcome any support from New Delhi. The UK considers India to be an important trade partner, so New Delhi might be in a position to put significant pressure on Westminster to return the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece.
Greece’s long struggle for repatriation
The Parthenon Sculptures are of monumental cultural and historical importance to Greece. The Parthenon itself, which sits atop the Acropolis overlooking Athens, has endured as a symbol of Greek achievement for thousands of years.
The fact that whole chunks of it have been kept away from their place of origin for over two centuries has been a longstanding cause of disagreement between Athens and London.
In 2021, a YouGov poll found that the majority of British adults felt the Parthenon Marbles should be kept in Greece. 59% of respondents answered that the sculptures should be returned to Athens, while only 18% were in favor of them remaining in the UK.
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