A group of Indians have recently announced their intention to take legal action against The Queen in a bid to reclaim the Koh-i-noor Diamond that is presently a part of the Crown Jewels.
The Koh-i-noor, which means “mountain of light,” was mined in India around 800 years ago. The 105-carat stone was once the largest cut diamond in the world and passed from one dynasty to another before it ended up in the hands of the Mughal rulers. After the British colonisation of Punjab (an Indian province) in 1849, the gem was presented to Queen Victoria by the Maharaja of Lahore.
However, there are still some who believe that the diamond was taken unlawfully and rightfully belongs to the Indians and not the British. The primary aim of the group’s efforts is to force The Queen to return the diamond to India, and their case is based on principles of British Law that give institutions the power to return stolen artefacts. The campaign is also gaining popularity in Britain, especially among those who are of Indian origin, such as Labour MP Keith Vaz.
At the head of the legal proceedings is David de Souza, co-founder of the Indian leisure group Titos, who is helping to fund the campaign to recover the priceless gem. “The Koh-i-Noor is one of the many artefacts taken from India under dubious circumstances,” he said. “Colonisation did not only rob our people of wealth, it destroyed the country’s psyche itself. It brutalised society, traces of which linger on today in the form of mass poverty, lack of education and a host of other factors.”
The Koh-i-noor went on display at the Great Exhibition in 1851 before being mounted on a brooch worn by Queen Victoria. After The Queen’s death, her daughter-in-law, the new queen, Alexandra had the stone set in her crown for her coronation. Every queen consort after Alexandra has worn the Koh-i-noor in her crown, the last of them being Queen Elizabeth and The Queen Mother, who used the diamond in her crown in 1937. The Queen Mother’s crown is currently on display at the Tower of London.
The Koh-i-noor Diamond is currently valued at around £100 million. Traditionally, it is only worn by queens and is said to bring bad luck to any man who wears it.
The Crown Jewels, the Koh-i-noor among them, belong to the Crown, which means that they are held by The Queen in her position as the sovereign and do not belong to her personally. As a result, the decision to return or retain the diamond will be made by the British government rather than Her Majesty herself.
However, during a visit to India in 2013, David Cameron refused to concede the diamond, saying: “I certainly don’t believe in ‘returnism’.” That was far from the first time a request to return the Koh-i-noor had been denied – in 1976, Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan said that he “could not advise Her Majesty The Queen that it [the Koh-i-noor] should be surrendered.”
The newest threats of legal action coincide with Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK which includes a lunch with The Queen at Buckingham Palace at the end of the week. However, it remains unknown whether the two leaders will discuss the matter of the diamond.