INDIA has relinquished its claim on the world famous but controversial Koh-i-Noor diamond which is currently set as centrepiece in the Queen Mother’s Crown, as part of the British Crown Jewels, as shown.
The long-running argument over ownership of the 105-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond, which is also claimed by Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, may finally achieve official, if not emotional, closure with the Indian government deciding not to stake its claim, as “it was neither stolen nor forcibly taken away”.
The return of Koh-in-Noor, which means Mountain of Light, to India has been a long-standing demand, with many claiming that the diamond was taken forcibly. The fight to get back the diamond has been ongoing since India’s independence, but the Koh-I-Noor is an infamous symbol of both India’s past riches and their plunder by successive rulers.
After the subjugation of Punjab in 1849 by British forces, the properties of the Sikh Empire were confiscated. The Koh-i-Noor was transferred to the treasury of the British East India Company in Lahore. The diamond was shipped to Britain and was handed to Queen Victoria in July 1850. It was cut on the orders of the Prince Consort, Prince Albert, to improve its brilliance and was mounted into Queen Victoria’s crown.
The diamond now sits in the Tower of London along with the Crown Jewels and, as the gem is said to bring bad luck to men who wear it, is only worn by women. In 1937 it was set in the Queen Mother’s Crown and this was placed on her coffin at her funeral in 2002.
Mined in Andhra Pradesh, India, during the 13th century, the diamond passed through the hands of the Kakatiya Hindu dynasty, Turco-Mongols, Mughals with Shah Jahan setting it in his Peacock Throne. When this was plundered by the Shah of Persia, in 1793, he is said to have exclaimed: “Koh-i-Noor!”, meaning “Mountain of Light”.
Many Indians demanded the return of the diamond when Queen Elizabeth II made a state visit to India to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s independence from Britain in 1997.
The Indian government, believing the gem was rightfully theirs, made the first demand for the return of the Kohinoor diamond soon after independence. A second request followed in 1953, the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Each time, the British government refuted the claims, saying that ownership was non-negotiable.
In 2000, several members of the Indian Parliament signed a letter calling for the diamond to be given back to India, claiming it was taken illegally. British officials said that a variety of claims meant it was impossible to establish the gem’s original owner.
A similar demand was made during UK President David Cameron’s visit to India. To which Mr Cameron responded that he doesn’t believe in “returnism”.
Mr Cameron said that it is not the right approach to return the diamond to India and said, “If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty. I am afraid to say, it is going to have to stay put.”
On April 18, 2016, the government of India said that India should not stake claim to the diamond. According to a report by India Today, Centre’s counsel, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, told the apex court that the 105.602 carats diamond was handed over to the East India Company by Maharaja Ranjit Singh after he lost in the 1849 Sikh War.
Mr Kumar cited a 43-year-old law that does not allow the government to bring back antiquities taken out of the country before independence. Under the provisions of the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) takes up the issue of retrieval of only such antiquities as have been illegally exported out of the country.
A petition was filed by All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front in the Supreme Court, asking the Centre to disclose its stand on bringing back the diamond. The petition had said that the government was not making efforts to bring the diamond back.
Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the government, said this was the stand of the Culture Ministry. Chief Justice T S Thakur asked the Centre if it wants the case to be dismissed as they would face a problem in the future when putting forward any legitimate claim.