21 April 2016


The controversy over the ownership of the fabled Koh-I-Noor, one of the world's largest diamonds, has got a new twist. The Indian government has said that the diamond was neither "stolen nor forcibly taken away," but was gifted to the English East India Company, which ruled over parts of the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century. The Central Government has told the apex Supreme Court, that the heirs of the Sikh Emperor Maharaja Ranjit Singh gave the Koh-I-Noor to the British as “voluntary compensation” to cover the expenses of the Anglo-Sikh Wars. The dates, however, caused some confusion, as Singh died in 1839. The diamond had in fact been handed over to the British by his youngest son, 11-year-old Duleep Singh, in 1849.

Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar told a Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur that if “we start claiming the treasures from the museums of other countries; they will claim their treasures from our museums.” Kumar also 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.

The court was hearing a petition filed by a Non Governmental Organization (NGO), All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front, on whether the government intends to make a bid to get back the Kohinoor. The famous 105-carat diamond has been part of the British crown jewels for over 160 years, but has been claimed by the governments of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan over the years. Many believe that the gem was "stolen" by the British, with several campaigns to bring the diamond back to India.

The gem, whose name translates as "mountain of light" in Persian, was mined in the Golconda region in southern India. It was seized by numerous rulers over the centuries, coming in the hands of the Delhi Sultans, the Mughals, Persian rulers and the Sikh maharajas of Punjab. It got its present name, “Koh-I-Noor”, from Persian ruler Nadir Shah, who invaded north India in 1739. After Shah's death, the diamond came under the possession of one of his generals, whose descendants finally gave it to Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh empire, in 1813.

For years, politicians and others, here and in the UK, have said the whopper of a diamond was seized after Punjab was annexed to British India and must be returned. In 2013, during a trip to India, UK Prime Minister David Cameron ruled out sending the diamond back to India. "I think I am afraid to say, to disappoint all your viewers, it is going to have to stay out," he told NDTV in an exclusive interview. The crown that has the Koh-I-Noor "has only been worn by female royals because it is said to be unlucky for men to do so," says The Daily Mail. If Kate Middleton, the wife of Prince William, who is second in line to the throne, eventually becomes queen consort, she will don the crown holding the diamond on official occasions.

 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy, on Tuesday, expressed his disappointment over the stand of the ruling dispensation and said that he would write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding the facts of the diamond’s transaction from India to Britain.

 “People have been demanding the return of the 105-carat stone for decades now. Common sense must prevail that one cannot and should not ask for a gifted item to be returned. Asking for return of a gift is a shameful act. The government of India is right in its stand before the Supreme Court,” historian Ram Narain Mishra, 45, told Gulf News.

Meanwhile, Union Minister of State for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Mahesh Sharma, on Tuesday, said that only the Centre can act on the issue of Koh-I-Noor.“According to the guidelines, the Central Government can take steps on things that were gifted or procured by the British before independence. Expert opinion on this regard will be taken on appropriate time and presented before the Supreme Court,” Sharma said.

It is really amusing to see how in a third world country, where poverty, illiteracy, drought, famine, terrorism and such cases are rampant even to this date, the government still is under the overwhelming desire to attain a piece of gem that would in no way solve the above mentioned problems. This case has been hyped so much in the last few decades that sometimes I feel that people forget that they are living in the 21st century where we all live in a “global village”, unlike the 18th and 19th centuries where our relation with Britain was solely based on imperialism.


ANUMITA MUKHERJEE, a well wisher of all creatures is a freshman of English Literature from St.Xavier's college, Kolkata. Apart from writing about various social issues, she is an avid reader!

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