A billboard shows a picture of Britain's late queen Elizabeth II on September 9, 2022. Photo: Geoff Caddick / AFP
While much of the western world are mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the UK’s longest-running monarch, some from her former colonies questioned the dark legacy of the monarchy and her rule. In South Asia, the dissent centres on the Koh-i-Noor.
As soon as the news of the queen’s passing broke, South Asians across the world started asking for the controversial diamond back. The 109-carat Koh-i-Noor – believed to be the world’s most expensive diamond – has been at the heart of an ownership dispute between the British royalty and some of its former colonies. The dispute over the diamond, estimated to be worth $400 million by some and priceless by others, symbolises a larger protest against the British for downplaying the brutality of their 200-year rule and the scale of their loot.
Believed to bring bad luck to men but good fortune to women, the Koh-i-Noor has been worn by generations of British queens. The Queen Mother Elizabeth wore it in her crown. It is now considered royal property and is on display at the Tower of London. The crown with the Koh-i-Noor will reportedly be passed down to the wife of soon-to-be King Charles, Camilla. As Britain mourns Elizabeth II, some people from her former colonies have focused on the destruction the British empire brought upon large swathes of the world.
Indian economist Utsa Patnaik, who studied Britain’s economic history, said the British siphoned out at least $45 trillion from the subcontinent between 1765 to 1938. This is 17 times more than the total annual gross domestic product of the UK today. British royalty claim the Koh-i-Noor was a “gift,” although at least four countries – India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran – say it’s a looted item and should be returned to them. “Britain owes us,” wrote Indian member of parliament Shashi Tharoor, who has been advocating the return of Koh-i-Noor. “But, instead of returning the evidence of their rapacity to their rightful owners, the British are flaunting the Kohinoor on the Queen Mother’s crown in the Tower of London.” The author of Jewel In the Crown, which documents how the British royalty got hold of the diamond, added, “It is a stark reminder of what colonialism truly was: shameless subjugation, coercion, and misappropriation.”
Around the time Elizabeth II was born, the British empire ruled over 412 million people – about one-fourth of the world’s population. Historians confirm that British colonisation was riddled with abuse, inequalities, racism, violence and extreme drain of wealth. Even though Elizabeth II wasn’t alive during the peak of British colonisation, she has been accused of turning a blind eye to many of its crimes, including slave trade and Operation Legacy in the 1950s-70s, under which her Majesty’s government and MI5 hid, burnt or dumped tens of thousands of crucial files from ex-colonies.Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.