India: Heritage on the western market

It is quite often heard that old records and manuscripts have been taken away from the archives and museums usually with the connivance of corrupts officials and employees. If the government undertakes a thorough stock taking of the antiques, especially the huge amount of manuscripts, brought from Tibet and by the renowned scholar Rahul Sankrityayan and deposited with the Patna Museum, one is sure to realize that a substantial portion is not there but has reached the West. Not only this, but also the records and manuscripts in private possession have been taken out of the country because there is no law to stop this. To give a concrete instance, the private papers of Swami Sahjanand Sarswati, one of the builders of peasant movement in India during the first half of the 20th century were taken away by an American scholar, Walter Hauser, of Philadelphia. Some years ago, with a great deal of difficulty, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library could secure microfilm of these papers to facilitate the work of researchers. Very recently when Mahatma Gandhi’s manuscripts came to be auctioned by Sotheby in London, there was a public hue and cry. The Government of India stepped in and could bring them back, as grapevine has, after paying a substantial amount of money.

It is rumoured that Western, especially American scholars, have been taking away original records from the National as well as State Archives after propitiating the staff. Under the rules, no scholar is allowed normally to enter the rooms where records are stacked. These rules are observed more in the breach.

Autor: Klaus Graf

Historiker und Archivar, Blogger

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