Newspaper article International New York Times

India Seeks Return of Koh-I-Noor Diamond ; Was the 106-Carat Stone a Royal Gift, or the Price of a Colonial Peace Deal?

Newspaper article International New York Times

India Seeks Return of Koh-I-Noor Diamond ; Was the 106-Carat Stone a Royal Gift, or the Price of a Colonial Peace Deal?

Article excerpt

The 105.6-carat stone, on display in the Tower of London, has been in the country since 1850.

The Indian government has begun a polite campaign for the return of a 105.6-carat diamond that was, depending on the divergent perspectives, either a gift to Queen Victoria from the maharajah of Punjab or stolen by the British.

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 Tower of London, where it is a centerpiece of the British royal family's crown jewels.

As with the Elgin marbles, the Parthenon sculptures and other artifacts that Greece has long tried to get back from Britain, the ownership of the diamond has been a contentious issue for decades.

For many Indians, the Koh-i-Noor -- the name means 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.

Britain says the diamond came into its possession after the defeat of Punjab in the Anglo-Sikh wars of the late 1840s and was moved to Britain in 1850. As recently as 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron said the diamond would "stay put."

But critics in India say that version has been sanitized.

The diamond originated in the Golconda 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 Punjab, who died in 1839.

His death led to a struggle and, in 1843, the installation of his five-year-old son. In the power vacuum, the East India Company rapidly extended its control over the once-mighty kingdom, annexing it in 1849, following its victory in the Second Anglo-Sikh War, said Anita Anand, a journalist and the co-author of a forthcoming book on the diamond. …

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