Shimla, June 9 (IANS) The controversy over the rightful ownership of the George Cross awarded to a pre-independence Indian soldier has ended, with a court in the UK, where Ashok Nath, its current owner is settled, declaring that the medal is the property of the soldier's widow Brahmi Devi, who lives in a Himachal Pradesh village.
The medal, received by Brahmi Devi on her husband's behalf from then viceroy Field Marshal Lord Wavell in 1946, is to be kept with the British Metropolitan Police till Dec 31, said the Queen's Bench division in the high court of justice in its order last week.
The medal was allegedly stolen from Brahmi Devi's house in 2002.
But the bench, in its order dated June 5, which was accessed by IANS, said before the medal is restored to her, the defendant (Brahmi Devi) would have to pay the claimant (Nath) costs and expenses to the tune of 12,000 pounds (over Rs.10 lakh).
The court, however, clearly specifies that "in the event of default of payment by the due date (Dec 31), (the payment) shall be enforceable by the claimant against the defendant without further order".
Surinder Thakur, a Shimla-based lawyer and nephew of Brahmi Devi, told IANS Sunday that Nath's declaration in the court has paved the way for the return of the medal to India.
"We will now approach the Indian High Commission in London to get India's heritage back to the country," he said.
The court observed: "Upon hearing counsel for the claimant and for the defendant and upon the claimant declaring that from the date of this order the George Cross medal posthumously awarded to the defendant's husband, Naik Kirpa Ram, is the property of the defendant."
"It's ordered by consent that there be no order on the claim save that on or before Dec 31, 2013, the defendant do pay to the claimant."
It further said that after the payment of 12,000 pounds to Nath the medal should be delivered to Brahmi Devi's solicitors.
"My only wish is to get back the memory of my martyred husband," Brahmi Devi, 80, told IANS over phone.
Her husband was awarded the George Cross, considered the civilian counterpart of Britain's highest military decoration - the Victoria Cross - for sacrificing his life to save his comrades while disposing of a misfired rifle grenade at a camp in Bangalore Sep 12, 1945.
Brahmi Devi, who lives in a village in Bilaspur district, had reported the theft of the medal from her house Feb 3, 2002.
Nath, in one of his communications to Himachal police, said he had acquired the medal in good faith from S.L. Jain, a coin and medal dealer based in Delhi, after being shown two affidavits along with a video which convinced him that the medals had been acquired in a proper manner.
The issue of the stolen medal came to light when Britain's leading auction house Dix Noonan Webb listed the medal for auction Dec 2, 2009.
When the controversy arose, the head of auctioneers Dix Noon Webb, based in Mayfair, London, had then said that Ram's George Cross medal was "disposed of" by his widow in 2000 - and not stolen from her house as she claims.
Later, on the intervention of the Indian government, the British authorities ordered that the medal be withdrawn from the auction.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)