Sshortly after British monarch Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, the word “Kohinoor” started trending on Indian Twitter.
It was a reference to one of the most famous gems in the world. The Kohinoor diamond is just one of 2,800 stones set into the crown made for Elizabeth’s mother, known as the Queen Mother, but the 105-carat oval-shaped diamond is the proverbial jewel in the crown.
In India it is known for the way it was acquired by the British.
The story of the Kohinoor
When it was mined in what is now modern Andhra Pradesh, during the Kakatiya dynasty of the 12th–14th centuries, it is believed to have been 793 carats uncut. The earliest record of its ownership places it in the hands of Mounds in the 16th century. Then the Persians took it, and then the Afghans.
The Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh brought him back to India afterwards taking it by Afghan leader Shah Shuja Durrani. It was then acquired by the British during the annexation of Punjab. The East India Company acquired the stone in the late 1840s after forcing the 10-year-old Maharaja Dujeep Singh to surrender his lands and possessions.
The company then presented the gem to Queen Victoria. Prince Albert, her husband, requested that it be recut and it was placed in the crowns of Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary before being placed in the crown of the Queen Mother in 1937.
The Queen Mother wore part of the crown at her daughter’s coronation in 1953. Since then, the Kohinoor has been among the British Crown Jewels, but governments in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India have laid claim to the diamond.
The crown of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, containing the famous Kohinoor diamond, pictured on 19 April 1994.
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images
The disputed ownership of the Kohinoor diamond by Britain
While no plans have been revealed for the gem’s future, the prospect of it remaining in the UK has led many Twitter users in India to call for its return.
“If the king won’t wear the Kohinoor, bring it back” wrote one.
Another said the diamond “was stolen” by the British who “created wealth” out of “death”, “famine” and “robbery”.
It is not the first time that the return of the diamond has been demanded. After India’s independence in 1947, the government demanded the diamond back. Made in India another request in the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. These requests fell on deaf ears, with the UK claiming it had without legal basis for returning the Kohinoor to India.
British-Indian author and political commentator Saurav Dutt says the chances of Britain returning the jewel are slim.
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It is true that the British have recently made it easier a return to Benin’s bronze medals—72 artifacts looted by British soldiers in the 19th century — to the Nigerian government. But Dutt says the British royal establishment is still “married to this romantic version of empire, even though it’s long dead and out of power”. The Kohinoor is a symbol of that power, Dutt argues, and by handing it over, he believes the royals would “essentially disembowel themselves.”
At the very least, King Charles III should acknowledge the “black history” of the Kohinoor diamond, says Dutt.
“Acknowledging the fact that it was obtained through stealth and deception would be a significant step at this stage that lays the groundwork for the next generation to be able to bring it back,” he tells TIME.
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