The Koh-I-Noor Diamond: A Tale Of The Crown's Colonial Conquest
BY MAHI KUMAR
The Crown was notorious for stealing peoples land, culture and jewellery. We are the victims of generations of colonisation.
14 October 2022
With the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II, there’s been a lot of talk surrounding the Koh-I-Noor Diamond.
The Queen is dead, so I’m here to talk about one of her most famously stolen jewels. Note that I had to say “one of”, as majority of, (if not all) of the crown jewels have been stolen from colonies during the Monarch’s numerous colonial conquests ranging from Ireland all the way to India. With the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II, numerous former colonies have been calling for the return of these stolen jewels. One in particular that never fails to have an increased amount of scrutiny and contention around it is the Koh-I-Noor diamond. Interestingly, #Kohinoor started trending on Twitter, especially in India and Pakistan as soon as it became public news that Queen Elizabeth II had passed away.
The Koh-I-Noor Diamond is one of the largest cut diamonds (with a value of $400m!) in the world and was worn by the late Queen Elizabeth II on her crown. It is the world’s most expensive diamond, and features at the very centre of the crown. Upon the Queen’s death, it has been repeatedly speculated that the diamond will be passed down to the Queen Consort Camilla. There is significant ownership dispute and has been a noteworthy subject of diplomatic controversy in India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan - all demanding its return from the UK.
Whilst the history of the Koh-I-Noor diamond has always been contentious, there are multiple unofficial accounts of what actually happened back in the 1840’s. The Monarch alleges that this diamond was gifted by Maharaja Duleep Singh to Queen Victoria to thank the British for their valiant efforts and as a gesture of gratitude for British Support. However, at the time of this gift, Maharaja Duleep Singh was 10 years old. Many ethnic groups believe that the British East India company stole the Koh-I-Noor diamond from a 10 year old King during the annexation of Punjab in the 1849’s (under the rain of Lord Dalhousie). In layman's terms, annexation, under International Law, is essentially the (forcible) acquisition of a territory by another territory, and is held to be an illegal act (funny how there are multiple illegal acts happening here!). The diamond was stolen, Maharaja Duleep Singh was forced to sign a peace treaty relinquishing the diamond and claims of sovereignty to the British then was shipped off to Britain, his mother was imprisoned by the British, and Queen Victoria started wearing the diamond on her cloak almost immediately after stealing it from a little boy. To me, this is analogous to quite literally taking candy from a baby and calling it a gift.
Whilst government representatives in various jurisdictions (UK, India, Pakistan) have noted that there are no legal grounds for restitution of the diamond, cases have been brought to the supreme courts over the last few decades. There has been a trend recently for museums to return jewels and ancient artefacts to their country of origin; recently a museum in Glasgow returned 7 historical artefacts to India. Whilst this has ignited hope that the Crown may return the diamond to India, this is an extremely slim chance given the noted intention to pass it on to the Queen Consort Camilla. The bigger question would also be who the diamond should be returned to, with its origins transcending multiple countries.
To me, this is analogous to quite literally taking candy from a baby and calling it a gift.
Close to my heart as an Indian native, the Koh-I-Noor diamond is a marked reminder of the effects of colonisation. Whilst Cauciasian people around the world may be mourning the death of their Queen labelling her an amazing and inspirational woman, that is not a universal truth for people of colour. To many brown, black and indigenous communities, the death of the Queen sparks complicated emotions. It is a striking reminder instead of the theft of our land, the devaluation of our culture and religion and the subjugation that our ancestors have faced.