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Queen Elizabeth’s death sparks renewed demand for return of Kohinoor diamond to India

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After Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, Indians took to social media to demand the return of the Kohinoor diamond, one of the diamonds set in late monarch’s crown.

One of the world’s most famous gems, the Kohinoor diamond is a 105-carat oval-shaped diamond worth around $591 million, according to several news reports, and has been fought over for centuries.

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The diamond’s notoriety stems from the way in which it was acquired by the British in the late 1840s, author and researcher Dr. John Zubryzcki told SBS News, and the gem eventually reached Queen Victoria around 1850.

It was passed down from Queen Victoria to Elizabeth II’s Queen Mother Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon to the late queen herself.

“The origins of the diamond are kind of shrouded in mystery and we can’t be exactly sure when it was first sighted, but we think it dates back to about the 14th century, and was discovered in what is now Andhra Pradesh,” Dr Zubrzycki told SBS News.

“It was in the possession of the Persians and then in the Afghans, and was brought back to India, after the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh took it from the Afghan leader Shah Shujah Durrani, and then it was acquired by the British when they annexed the Punjab, so that was the days of the East India Company.”

The researcher believes that the stone was acquired by the British after 10-year-old Punjab Maharaja Duleep Singh – the last ruler of the Sikh Empire – surrendered his state to the British during the Anglo-Sikh War.

The gem was presented to Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, asked for it to be recut, and it was then set in the crowns of Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary before being placed on the Queen Mother’s crown in 1937, Time magazine online reported.

The gem had made its way through several Indian dynasties including the Mughals, the Persians, the Afghans, the Turco-Afghan Khilji, and the Sikh rulers before ending up in Britain.

In 2017, the Indian Supreme Court said it was not able to pass an order for reclaiming the diamond from Britain or to stop it from being auctioned.

An Indian woman displays a replica of famous diamond Kohinoor, during a diamond exhibition of world 100 famous diamond, in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta on January 29, 2002. (Reuters)
An Indian woman displays a replica of famous diamond Kohinoor, during a diamond exhibition of world 100 famous diamond, in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta on January 29, 2002. (Reuters)

Although no future plans for the gem have been disclosed, the fact that it still remains in the UK today after the passing of Queen Elizabeth has prompted Twitter users across India to demand its return.

The Indian government said in 2016 statement that “certain news items appearing in the press regarding the Kohinoor diamond are not based on facts,” adding that it remained “hopeful for an amicable outcome whereby India gets back a valued piece of art with strong roots in our nation’s history [Kohinoor diamond].”

Venktesh Shukla started a petition in cooperation with NGO Change.org India.

The organization tweeted about the launch of the petition on September 13 aiming to get “at least a million signatures,” claiming that it -- in Shukla’s words -- was “no longer morally defensible for the UK to hold on to this loot.”

Twitter user @M_Crimsonrose wrote: “… Britain, it is time that you give us back our Kohinoor and everything you looted from other nations.”

“The British monarchy isn’t obviously going to give it back. If we as an emerging strong country have any sort of civilizational memory and self-respect, we should officially ask them to return [it],” Twitter user @krithikasaivasw wrote.

“It’s an insult if Camilla wears it,” said Twitter user @Blake_TWT.

Another user @dineshvelupula wrote: “Now the funeral is over. The queen benefited from the wealth and enslavement of colonized people and never did anything to rectify that. The queen is a reminder of the British colonial exploitation that India cast off 75 years ago.”

Al Arabiya English’s Ayush Narayanan contributed to this report.

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