Following article was written by the great author Khushwant Singh in the Hindustan
Times on 19th August 1995. This article was meant to open the eyes of the sleeping
Sikh Community--who are still asleep!!! (Kanwal)
victorious armies plunder, rape and kill. Some go on the rampage without the slightest
concern about public opinion, but the British did it with finesse and more thoroughness.
It was during my years in London as a student and then with our High Commission
that I saw some or the loot they had taken from the Punjab. There was of course
the diamond Koh-i-noor taken from the boy Maharajah Dalip Singh, the youngest
son of Maharajah Ranjit Singh. It was cut into three: one piece each in the crowns
of the King and Queen of England and one piece in the Tower of London Museum.
There was Ranjit Singh's gold-leaf-covered throne in the Victoria & Albert
Museum. There are innumerable weapons: cannons, muskets, swords, spears, shields
and chain-coat shirts in the War Museum. Manuscripts, documents, miniature paintings,
scriptural texts, ceremonial robes-you name them, they had them, looted from all
parts of India in the process of expanding their empire from the Arakan to the
Indus. More than what could be seen in the museums were priceless artefacts taken
by Governor Generals, army commanders, residents and senior civil servants. These
were in private collections in castles and country mansions now divided between
descendants of the predators. There is little hope of our ever getting any of
these back to our country.
Kohinoor in the Crown of the Queen of England
I bring this subject up now is the arrival of a BBC team this week to do a radio
documentary on relics of the Sikh Raj in private collections in England. The spadework
was done by Harbans Singh who was a colleague in India House. His daughter Rani
accompanies the team with the producer of the programme Nigel Acheson. Mark Tully,
now a freelance journalist will elicit opinions of Indians including myself.
Singh has been able to locate many more relics than 1 was aware of. The biggest
haul was made by Lord Dalhousie who
annexed the Punjab after Sikh Darbar's
troops were finally defeated in the battle of Gujarat on Feb 21, 1849. On March
29, 1849, the Koh-i-noor which British envoys had seen earlier was handed over
to the English.
Then followed systematic loot of everything worthwhile in the
Punjab. Queen Victoria desired certain objects for Windsor Castle; directors of
the East India Company wanted their share, Dalhousie wanted to keep a lot for
himself; other English officers took whatever was left. Some of these items were
recorded in the correspondence, which passed between Calcutta and London. But
of most of what was pocketed by English officers, both military and civilians,
there is no record.
In the correspondence on record is a letter dated 19th
December 1850 from Dalhousie to directors of the East India Company stating that
he was forwarding to them two swords-one given by Holkar to Ranjit Singh and another
known as 'Rustum' which had the genealogy of its wielders written on the blade
in letters of gold. He added 'with these also, I have sent some singular documents
worthy of preservation in England.' Among them a copy of the Dasam Granth handwritten
Gobind Singh. In the same letter he asks whether they would be interested
in having 'the golden chair in which the Burra Maharajah held his state', spear
and sword which 'according to the Sikh traditions belonged to Gooroo Gobind' and
'a silver bungalow'. If the directors were not keen to have them, could Dalhouisie
keep them for himself?
These are only some relics of the Sikh Raj. Much more
was taken from Madras, Karnataka, Bengal, Avadh and the Marathas both by the East
India Company and thugs like Clive and Warren Hastings. Even after the winding
up of the East India Company, viceroys and governors received valuable gifts from
Indian princes when they visited their states. Some of them went to the treasure,
some to line pockets of the recipients. All the loot taken from India is now in
Is there anything we can do to get some of it back to our country?
Our best bet is to persuade the United Nations or one of its organisations like
UNESCO to pass a resolution that items of historical or artistic value taken as
war booty should be returned to the countries of their origin.