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US to expedite returning stolen antiques to India – media 

New Delhi and Washington are close to signing a pact allowing faster transportation of stolen or smuggled artifacts 

India is likely to sign an agreement with the US to expedite the return of precious stolen artifacts amid New Delhi’s continued thrust on bringing back heritage items from foreign shores, The Indian Express reported on Monday, citing officials. 

The US will volunteer to return the items under an envisioned Cultural Property Agreement (CPA) between New Delhi and Washington. “We are eager to conclude a bilateral CPA, which would help to prevent illegal trafficking of cultural property from India to the US,” a spokesperson of the US Embassy in New Delhi was quoted as saying by the outlet. 

The US embassy has been working closely with India’s Ministry of Culture and the Indian Embassy in Washington to protect and return stolen items, the spokesperson added. 

[Once the pact is signed], the US will intercept smuggled goods at the border and return them expeditiously,” India’s culture secretary, Govind Mohan, was quoted as saying. “It is expected to come into effect in a few months.” 

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Looted India. Cost of an Empire

Under existing rules, once an Indian artifact is located in a foreign country, its origin has to be established through documents, which are then verified by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) officials in the host country before being transported back to India. This process has no fixed timeline, which often takes a long time. 

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has made the return of stolen antiques one of the core missions of his government. According to Indian government data, over 400 smuggled or stolen antiques, including religious idols, have been returned to India from the US since the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was voted into power in 2014. 

In recent years, India has been tapping on Washington’s door to return antiques stolen over the years that made their way to US shores. Modi and US President Joe Biden committed to strengthen their efforts to “combat theft, illicit trade, and trafficking of cultural objects” during the former’s visit to the US earlier this year. 

Days after Modi wrapped up his US visit, Washington flew to India 105 such items even as talks began on the CPA as a means to prevent the illegal trafficking of cultural artifacts. The antiquities, made of terracotta, stone, metal, and wood, spanned the 2nd-3rd centuries AD to the 18th-19th centuries. 


READ MORE: India’s quest to bring antiquities back home

Most of the items were stolen by an American citizen of Indian origin, Subash Kapoor, who was sentenced to ten years by a court in Tamil Nadu state in southern India and is currently serving his term.

In September, the Times of India newspaper reported that a US court had cleared over 1,400 idols for return to India. However, the transfer was delayed due to procedures that included sending experts to authenticate the idols and “budgetary constraints.” The US has so far returned 578 stolen idols displayed in its art galleries to India, the report noted.

November 27, 2023 at 09:30PM
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