“His lack of support for repatriation doesn’t justify his own work but with his book, we are in the position to go beyond and further in terms of restitution, we now have a comprehensive record of stolen images from the 1960s onward, previously we had to rely on incomplete information,” says Roshan Mishra, director of Taragaon Museum and curator of the Global Nepali Museum, an online database of Nepali objects housed in the museums around the world.
The good news is that there is now a trend of voluntary return of stolen images from the western collectors, galleries and museums as the wave of decolonisation takes root. This means that sooner rather than later, Nepal will be getting back many of its religious objects. Unfortunately, the government and local communities are not prepared for restitution.
“Everything need not come back at once. But at the very least we must get these museums and collectors to hold it in trust for us until such time we are ready to bring them back,” says activist Kanak Mani Dixit.
Currently, most of the repatriated religious objects are housed at the National Museum in Chhauni, poorly-lit and in dusty and dismal condition, much to the dismay of heritage activists—another reason why von Schroeder does not mind if the stolen objects do not return to Nepal right away.
Here today, in Europe tomorrow, Janki Gurung
There is also an ongoing discussion about the fate of objects with damage or cracks, as was the case with Laxmi Narayan. One of its hands was broken during transportation across the world.
According to local belief, deities that are damaged cannot be kept as the central idol in the temple even though they are worshipped. In a country that is prone to disasters ranging from fires to earthquakes, risk assessment of buildings where returned artefacts are housed is also of utmost importance.
Municipalities can also assist the central government in local housing and proactive restoration, say experts like Roshan Mishra
He adds: “The end goal is to restore the objects to their original place but until we can do so with security, we should decentralise them to museums closest to their actual location for the public viewing while also strengthening the community’s sense of ownership.”