Sotheby’s stops auction of Sikh armour, to arrange private sale

April 7th, 2008 - 7:23 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
(Second Lead)
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, April 7 (IANS) Sotheby’s Monday stopped the auction of an 18th century body armour after angry protests by Sikh groups in India, but said it would arrange a private sale for Sikh buyers. “As per the seller’s wishes, should anyone come forward to buy the item, we will then forward their offer to the seller,” Sotheby’s spokesman Simon Warren told IANS after the London-based firm house withdrew it from auction.

Warren refused to comment on the reasons for the withdrawal - other than to say it was what the seller wanted - but the move comes just after days of Sikh protests in India and a threat to sue Sotheby’s.

Sikh political and religious bodies from Anandpur Sahib in Punjab to Patna and New Delhi petitioned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, held demonstrations and wrote letters of protest to the Indian High Commission in London and Sotheby’s calling for the rectangular 29-by-21-cm-body armour to be returned to Sikhs.

Sotheby’s said the body armour, estimated at 10-12,000 pounds, would now be sold to a member of the Sikh community.

The object became controversial after a Sikh website claimed it may have belonged to the 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, adding that Sotheby’s too had hinted at the possibility.

The London auctioneers clarified on April 2 that although the body armour strongly resembled one owned by Guru Gobind Singh - currently in the possession of the former royal family of Patiala - the armour being auctioned did not belong to the 10th Guru.

But bowing to continuing Sikh protests, the auction house said Monday it was withdrawing the armour from the April 9 auction at the request of the unidentified seller.

“Sotheby’s has been asked by the consignor to arrange the acquisition of the lot by a suitable member of the Sikh community,” Warren said in a statement.

Despite Sotheby’s assertions that the item did not belong to Guru Gobind Singh, the secretary general of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) said last week that the auctioneers had “hurt our sentiments by first leading on the Sikhs to assume that the armour belonged to the Guru and then issuing contradictory statements about its origin”.

“If need be, we would approach the Unesco (the UN cultural organisation), the UN and the international human rights bodies to help implement a ban on the auctions of such relics, which are revered by communities all over the world,” Sukhdev Singh Bhaur said in New Delhi.

And SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar threatened to sue Sotheby’s.

“If it is established that they did it to encourage the Sikh community for higher bidding for the piece, then we would sue them for using the Guru’s name,” he said.

The SGPC asked two of its London-base officials to look into the provenance of the item. Two officials of the Indian High Commission in London were also reported to have been charged with a similar task.

Sikh community leaders in London were prepared to bid for the armour but withdrew after being told it did not belong to the 10th Guru.

Those who made inquiries included industrialist Kartar Lalwani and a London gurdwara.

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