One of India’s national treasures has been sold at Christie’s auction, going for an estimated 145,000 pounds. The ring went for 10 times its estimated price to an undisclosed bidder. The sale of the ring has drawn criticism from heritage groups around the world as it is an Indian national heritage item.
The ring is believed to have been stolen from the body of Tipu Sultan, who was killed in a battle with the East Indian company in 1799. The ring is notable for having the Hindu word for god inscribed on it, while the Sultan himself was Muslim. Some doubt that the ring was literally taken from the body of the dead king, but instead likely pilfered from his collection after his defeat.
Sale of India’s national heritage items a touchy subject
Many are expressing outrage at the continued sale of heritage items that were gotten through ill means during the colonial period. Christie’s auction itself has built up a reputation for selling many of these items. Given that the United Kingdom was one the world’s largest empire, and that Christie’s is one of Britain’s leading auction houses, this should come as no surprise.
What to do with heritage items that were seized during the colonial period has become a touchy issue between governments. Once colonized countries generally view the items as part of their national heritage and want to see the items returned.
Given that many of these items now fill up popular museums in London, Chicago, New York, and elsewhere, “first world” conquerors are not necessarily looking to give up their prized possessions. At the same time, discerning which items were obtained illegally or through ill-gotten means, and others that were obtained legally, is not so easy.
China among most vocal critics
In most cases, the complaining countries often lack the resources to really pressure the former colonial powers over the issue. China, however, is home to more than a billion people and has emerged as an economic power. Huge amounts of heritage goods were looted during the forced colonialization of China.
China has been increasingly vocal over the sales of goods that it regards as part of its national heritage. A pair of Qing Dynasty bronze statues, for example, were sold in 2009 for 29 million pounds, drawing outrage from Beijing and also prominent Chinese people, such as Jackie Chan. China went as far as to vow “revenge” over the sales.
As more of these goods come to auction, expect the Chinese to be increasingly vocal. Eventually, the sale of such goods could evolve into a full blown diplomatic crisis.