[For many Indians, the Koh-i-Noor — or Mountain of Light — is a symbol of colonial subjugation and three centuries of exploitation that began with the East India Company in the early 17th century, culminated in the absorption of India as a colony after a major uprising in 1857 and ended with the independence, and partition, of India in 1947.]
The Koh-i-noor is set in a crown, crafted in 1937, that was
most recently used by the Queen Mother, who died in
2002 at age 101. CreditTim Graham/Getty Images
After some indecision, the Indian Culture Ministry said on Tuesday evening that it would make “all possible efforts” to arrange the return of the diamond, the Koh-i-Noor, now residing in the
, where it is a centerpiece of
the British royal family’s crown jewels. Tower of London
As with the Elgin marbles, the Parthenon sculptures and other artifacts that
has long tried to reclaim from
Greece , the ownership of the diamond
has been a contentious issue for decades. Britain
For many Indians, the Koh-i-Noor — or Mountain of Light — is a symbol of colonial subjugation and three centuries of exploitation that began with the East India Company in the early 17th century, culminated in the absorption of India as a colony after a major uprising in 1857 and ended with the independence, and partition, of India in 1947.
Whether it was a gift or not,
says the diamond came into its
possession after the defeat of Britain Punjab in the Anglo-Sikh wars of the 1840s and was moved to in 1850. As recently as 2010,
Prime Minister David Cameron said the diamond would “stay put.” Britain
But critics in
say the British version of the
story has been sanitized. India
The diamond originated in the
mines, in what is now the
state of Andhra Pradesh. It passed through the hands of Mughal, Persian and
Afghan rulers before landing with Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the ruler of the Sikh
kingdom in Golconda Punjab, who died in 1839.
His death led to a struggle and, in 1843, the installation of his 5-year-old son. In the power vacuum, the East India Company rapidly extended its control over the once-powerful kingdom, annexing it in 1849, after its victory in the Second Anglo-Sikh War, said Anita Anand, a journalist and a co-author of a forthcoming book on the diamond. The jewel was then surrendered, she said, as part of an agreement ending the war and signed by the boy king.
“It was a cynical exploitation, at a time of flux in the Sikh kingdom,” Ms. Anand said by telephone.
The controversy may even extend beyond
. In India , a lawyer filed a petition in the Lahore High Court in February
arguing that the diamond belonged to territory that is now part of Pakistan , and that the Pakistani
government should seek its return. Pakistan
The issue was raised this week by a private group that was seeking a court order requiring the Indian government to request the diamond’s return. The Indian solicitor general, Ranjit Kumar, at first argued against the suit, saying that the gem was a gift and that the government had no reason to seek its return. This ignited a firestorm on social media, and did not appear to sit well with some of the judges.
“We have not colonized any other country and taken out their artifacts,” Chief Justice T. S. Thakur said, according to the Kolkata newspaper The Telegraph. “What are you worried about?” After that, the government seems to have had a change of heart.
Some Indian commentators said the issue was a political distraction. “Let it remain where it is, a shining example of our selflessness,” Pritish Nandy, a politician and writer, wrote on Twitter on Monday, calling the claim “not worth pursuing.”
Shekhar Gupta, a columnist for the newspaper The Business Standard,wrote on Twitter that the case was “a reminder to higher courts to be selective with what deserves attention.”
Most analysts say there is little chance that Britain will part with the Koh-i-Noor, which is embedded in a crown, crafted in 1937, that was most recently used by the Queen Mother, who died in 2002 at 101. Mr. Cameron said during a 2010 visit to
that if one request was
yielded to, “you suddenly find the India would be empty.” British Museum
Nevertheless, the Indian Culture Ministry said it hoped for an “amicable outcome whereby
gets back a valued piece of