March 6, 2009

Should Britain return the Koh-i-noor diamond?

Posted at 11:41 am in Similar cases

The Koh-i-noor diamond left India for Britain in 1850 as loot following a Sikh uprising. Since then there have been many calls for it to be returned.

Times Blogs

March 03, 2009
Should Britain give the Koh-i-noor back to India?

It was reported yesterday that a descendant of Mahatma Gandhi has asked Britain to return the Koh-i-noor diamond to India, thereby adding it to a list of treasures which the UK is under pressure to restore to their original homes – most notably the Elgin Marbles. This also comes in a week when France has been asked to send back two bronzes from the collection of Yves Saint Laurent to Beijing, where they were originally looted from the Summer Palace.

The Koh-i-noor is an interesting case because it seems that almost from the moment it arrived in the UK there were doubts about its ownership. It was brought here in 1850 after the defeat of an uprising by the Sikhs in the Punjab, and was initially greeted as fair booty of war in this jingoistic leading article:

Major Mackeson, passenger on Her Majesty’s steam sloop Medea, brings with him that famous diamond of the East called, in the fondness of Asiatic hyperbole, the Koh-i-noor, or Mountain of Light, which, after symbolizing the revolutions of ten generations by its passage from one conqueror to another, comes now, in the third centenary of its discovery, as the forfeit of Oriental faithlessness and the prize of Saxon valour, to the distant shores of England.

Contemporary reports pointed out the diamond’s peripatetic history, passing from one conquerer to another over 400-odd years:

… the “Mountain of light” passed in the train of conquest and as the emblem of dominion, from Golconda to Delhi, from Delhi to Mushed, from Mushed to Cabul, and from Cabul to Lahore … It was prudently secured among the few remaining valuables of the Lahore Treasury at the commencement of the last insurrection, and although even its nominal value would be an inadequate compensation for the cost of the Sikh wars, we may look upon its acquisition as a fitting symbol of that supremacy which we have so fairly won.

But very soon, as The Times reported, questions were asked about whether the diamond’s acquisition was entirely legal. The Punjab had been an independent state, acting as a buffer between the territories of the East India Company and hostile Afghanistan. After the two Sikh wars of the 1840s, as this 1862 report explains, it came under British rule:

It has been questioned whether the annexation of the Punjab was right or desirable … To put the case in a sentence, a Sikh protectorate was no longer possible. If there had ever been a day when a Khalsa kingdom might have been made a protection to our frontiers from the Afghan, that day had ceased when the Sikhs crossed the Sutlej … we had honestly tried our utmost to set a strong Sikh Power between us and Afghanistan … But this hope was gone when the Sirdars of the Regency invited the aid of the Ameer of Cabul, and bore with the violence and brutality of his troops to be rid of ours.
The keys of the north gates of India could not be left any longer with warders who had opened those gates to the foe, and the moralist, equally with the statesman, must approve their appropriation.

But did that rule entitle Britain to the Lahore treasure? In 1851, the Koh-i-noor took its place as a prize exhibit at the 1851 Great Exhibition, where

Fifty times at least every morning are questions asked as to the capture, sale, purchase, or conveyance of this priceless treasure. Nobody appears to know exactly how it passed from the jewel-room of Lahore to its present resting place – whether it became British property by seizure or forfeit, or whether it fell to the Queen by tribute or right.

Questions were asked in Parliament, and The Times summarised the discussion in this slightly inconclusive leading article:

Property captured in war may devolve by conventional regulations on the actual captors, on the force present in the field, on the whole army at large, on the General commanding, on the victorious State, or on its Sovereign. There are precedents for all these decisions. In the case of the Lahore jewels the circumstances were somewhat remarkable.

The battle of Sobraon in 1846 gave us possession of the Punjab, and if Lord Hardinge had marched from the banks of the Sutlej to the gates of Lahore and Umritsir in the guise of a conqueror, the treasures of these cities might have been considered as lawful prize-money. But we conceived our duties to have been accomplished by the defeat of the invaders, and were preparing to retire after having driven them into their own territories, when they earnestly desired us to occupy the Punjab in the capacity of protectors until order could be restored. This we consented to do, and though the Sikh capital was for that purpose garrisoned by British troops,its treasures remained in the possession of their original owners.

So stood matters till 1848, when, upon its becoming apparent that the Sikh chiefs were bent upon hostilities, the political agent at Lahore gave directions to the officer in command of the garrison to impound the Koh-i-noor – an order which was executed accordingly, without bloodshed or commotion. The property, in short, as Lord Ellenborough [Governor-General] justly phrases it, was “taken possession of”.

But was it thus constituted lawful prize? It was no part of the spoils either of a well-fought field or a captured city – it was property seized under a kind of embargo, and, indeed, it can hardly be said that at this particular period we were justified in asserting more than a precautionary lien upon these effects. The Lahore Government was still making professions of submission and amity, nor was it yet clear whether the insurrection was the deliberate work of the Sirdars in Council, or whether it was confined to the ambition of a single feudatory at Mooltan. Under these circumstances, though the property in question certainly passed into the “possession of Her Majesty’s forces and the troops of the East India Company during the late campaigns in the Punjab,” we think it may admit of doubt whether it became incontinently such “booty” as Lord Ellenborough would describe it.

But anyway, it was here now and having been presented to the Queen, could not be included in claims to recompense the Company for the cost of the war, or to pay the soldiers any special bounty. While its notional value was something like £2 million, the leader concluded that such a huge value could never realistically be redeemed and so:

The question of its disposal may have been a doubtful one, but nobody can regret the decision which transferred such a prize to the English Crown, and rendered it what it virtually is at present, the property of the British people for all purposes to which a sparkling bauble can be turned.

So what’s the answer? Does a trophy of war stay with the winner even if that war was one of colonial oppression? When Britain finally ceded independence, should all the booty of the Raj have been returned? How much is the Koh-i-noor a special case? Does its position in a British royal crown suggest continuing arrogance over our colonial past? If we return it, should we ask for our railways back?

Should Britain return the Koh-i-noor diamond?, 4.8 out of 5 based on 6 ratings
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Rating: 4.8/5 (6 votes cast)

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  1. Bhargo said,

    04.02.09 at 9:52 pm

    good article on Koh-i-Noor diamond.
    This comment is specifically for the last paragraph.
    It should be returned as an atonement for colonial past and
    railways was built in India for easing trade in India for the British and not for Indians..
    “Mountain of Light” should return to its birth place.

  2. Sher Doaba Singh said,

    05.12.09 at 8:52 am

    The treasures belong to the Punjab and the Sikh people

  3. Cpl. Williams said,

    05.25.09 at 5:26 am

    As the prior posters have stated, it was done for the occupying forces at the time, not for the indigenous people.In addition England profited off India and the outlaying territories, if it wasn’t a profitable venture they’d never have sent their troops and companies there. So even with the time past and such it would be worthwhile if jut to keep the native populace happy.Not saying this in a condescending way, I’m of Indian descent, Not nationality.

  4. Krishna said,

    07.13.09 at 4:35 am

    The question and answers are quite simple. A bully takes money/stuff from a smaller kid, since he was stronger at that point in time. So is he justified because he was stronger?

    India/the princely nations in the subcontinent did not go across oceans and continents and wage war against the British. The British came to the subcontinent to satisfy their purely colonial purpose – greed.

    Pray tell, why is it such a hard question to answer, when it comes to countries exploiting other countries’ resources? Does it become right, because your laws say so? Just to extend the analogy, would it have been ok for Hitler to plunder your country, if he had won in the second world war?

  5. sikh said,

    08.06.09 at 7:07 pm

    so what the british govt. have it,if they said it was won in a and you is just emotional about it.sikh is the faith that have no attachment to things but god.i’m feel sorry to those who dwell on it.sikh kingdom was destroy by british,and now that area are paying the price.example,when british leave india,pakistan was created(the trouble) for india.if sikh was given back the power, we should not have this mess,british govt. knew it.check king ranjit singh kingdom if i’m last sikh way is not to attach to things but waheguru(other name of god).

  6. Raghuvirsinh said,

    12.04.09 at 3:25 pm

    The kohinoor diamond was our ,of India. Then came the britishers and took away this diamond. I Mr.Sagarsinh raghuvirsinh Maharaul promise to all my
    Indians that anyhow I will take or fetch Kohinoor from Britain.


  7. dhan singh said,

    01.27.10 at 10:28 pm

    i just want to say you never say any thing thats yours when you stolen or snatched with your power and it will always remain in your harts that this diamond is not your what ever you do. shame..yeah

  8. arjen said,

    01.30.10 at 4:19 pm

    ask for your railways back???

    You mean the railways that were paid by Indian money, built by Indian labor, forced upon by British masters……DO YOU THINK the railways where the British agenda to give public transport to India …..or maybe it was laying down tracks so that troops, wealth and trade could be made to further exploit India and its people…

    INDIA has been Britain biggest CASH COW FOR THE Last 500YRS……Indias wealth FINANCED THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION AND UNDERWROTE ALL LOSSES…..a population of 300million was brutally controlled by garrison of 100,000 armed British troops.

    SO PLEASE…if were are taking about giving things back..I CAN ASSURE U THAT AFTER ALL HAS BEEN GIVEN AND TAKEN will be Britain that will see HOW MUCH IT REALLY TOOK FROM OTHERS…THAT It CLAIM AS THEIR OWN……

    Britains empire of thieves and muggers.

  9. Randy Nundlall said,

    02.01.10 at 11:59 pm

    I find the last paragraph very interesting… It is a pity that some of us is comparing the value of “kohinoor” to “our” railways. I feel ashamed when I realise I share the same oxygen with them.

  10. Aash said,

    02.18.10 at 6:27 pm

    The Kohinoor and whatever else has been taken away will be returned .. Anyway what power does the Queen really have anymore ..Who is she to own/keep the Kohinoor ..

  11. johAL said,

    02.22.10 at 5:53 pm


  12. sukhendu sekhar ray said,

    02.28.10 at 4:04 am

    Tower of Lodon which stores presently Kohinoor exhibits the quawntam of loot and forcible occupation of the wonder diamond from the custody of a hapless minor maharaja Duleep Singh.115 crores of Indians must raise their voice in unison for return of Kohinoor to India forthwith. SS ray_Kolkata

  13. ezra said,

    03.27.10 at 7:36 pm

    The worst part is that the koh-i-noor diamond is considered as a gift by India to Britain. we must raise our voices a get whats ours back, and the Tower of London has tagged the diamond as ‘a gift from India’ whereas it should be tagged as ‘ stolen from India’.

  14. Manudeep Kaushal said,

    03.30.10 at 6:28 am

    Not only this diamond, thousands of other articles belonging to different eras of the Indian History have been lying in the basement of British Museum since ages. They belong to the people of India. Their still lying in UK represents the dominance of white. We need them back. They are not going to return it easily. We need to build public opinion. Media has helped in many issues of national pride and should extend its help this time also.

  15. Vidhya said,

    04.01.10 at 11:24 am

    Yes. I just read that about 1 lakh 40 thousand kilograms of gold was also stolen from the Kolar goldmines by the British. Shocking case of theft indeed!

  16. Raja said,

    04.16.10 at 11:37 am

    Sher Doaba Singh ,

    First think Punjab and Sikh were also part of India and we all are brothers. I felt bad of you saying it belongs to Punjab and Sikh. We should stand together Sher, Your saying will limit our brothers from other part of our nation stop proceeding in this. Also be broad first think you are also an Indian. Also how can you say it belong to Sikh if Kohinoor originate from Andhra pradesh and when it has links from Lord Krishna period. See we have no unity so we lost everything to these ugly creatures.

  17. kk said,

    04.16.10 at 6:10 pm

    Well said, It is the property of the People of India else it should belog to Rayalaseema (part of Andhra Pradesh)

  18. Sandhya Parmar said,

    05.11.10 at 7:06 pm

    I think that Koh-i-noor diamond should brought back.

    But, i know that British people have stolen it.If you win something that does not mean that you win everything. The diamond is status of the Sikh King and people. The British war was bullshit and not considerable as war because of cheating. People, please stop talking about religion and all. The diamond should property of one and only one ,”India”.

    The other side of the faith, “If you steal it something you can not keep it all the time.” Someday, it will go away because it is not yours. Just hope for the best. Anyways, UK and all other related to British not doing good as globally.


  19. pranavi said,

    06.20.10 at 1:53 pm

    britishers are the thives who thieft the kohinoor from the indians

  20. nbnb said,

    07.02.10 at 7:18 pm

    britishers are thives, robbers and biggest dacoit. Shame on them that they still use gift from India while the fact is what we all are aware of. They are robbers who show off dignity. What a joke ! Almost $3 trillion property was stolen by them at that time and one can obviously guess why they are where ever they are today.

  21. JC2436 said,

    07.22.10 at 9:10 pm

    The Koh-I-Noor belonged to the Peacock throne in Afghanistan so if it was to go back anywhere, that is where it should go.

  22. dinesh said,

    07.23.10 at 11:38 am

    Its not a trophy it was forcibly taken as white people are greedy enough to loot this whole planet if they get a chance.
    India was the richest country and will regain its glory sooner or later.
    They must return back our belongings

    KOHINOOR diamond has come from INDIAN soil and nobody outside India can lay their hands it.

  23. Neutral viewer said,

    11.04.10 at 2:19 pm

    If Britishers want their railways back,which they laid for their own profit,
    then they should also return the wealth that they accumulated from India to europe. . .
    Unless england would’nt rule over India,
    britain would had nothing ,
    and was just a mere island. . .
    It was that the Britishers betrayed trust of rulers
    Britain not only colonized India, but also most of the world. . .
    World knows real status or culture of United kingdom that she had before annexing nations. . .

  24. AB said,

    11.28.10 at 4:55 pm

    I am Indian and I think it’s great britain refuses to return to us the Koh-i-Noor diamond. We should not give them the satisfaction of returning it voluntarily. The way things are going, in 20 years, we will have the satisfaction of seeing the british monarch travel to India, carry the famous diamond with him/her and prsent it as a tribute to the government in New Delhi.

  25. jees said,

    05.09.11 at 11:35 pm

    england need to give back the kohinnoor because it belongs to india…….even if it was taken by the old royal army it is stealing….

  26. Compton Singh said,

    05.16.11 at 1:01 pm

    Most of the people commenting here about the Kohinoor diamond has missed the point. I don’t know how England acquired the diamond, but we must remember that they were colonial masters for a few hundred years.

    Let me repeat: they were not caretakers, they were Colonial masters for about 300 years. This means India was a British possession. They owned it for awhile. They could have taken anything they wanted.

    Let me also point that Britain has been providing aid to India to the tune of 350 million pounds per year. Add that up from 1945 to the present time and see what you get. Do you think they have repaid for that diamond?

    You all need to grow up. Colonization was not the result of any animosity to a particular country, it was part of what world powers did during that era. If the British did not colonize India, the French, Portuguese, Belgians or someone else would have done it. The Portuguese remained colonial masters over Goa until 1975.

    You all need to become familiar with history. I suggest that it is emotionally immature to look back with anger at the colonial past.

    Compton Singh

  27. anand said,

    08.12.11 at 3:21 am

    in my life.
    Only 1 dream.
    That i want to see kohinoor diamond in india..

  28. apillai said,

    10.02.11 at 7:22 am

    To Compton Singh:
    You need to review history carefully and do the math equally carefully. The issue is not anger or frustration for past colonization, but the FACT that 350 million pounds per year since 1947 does NOT yet repay the wealth made by Britain at the cost of India. Read your facts before you pontificate.

  29. Compton Singh said,

    10.06.11 at 2:13 pm

    To Apillai,
    Let me repeat what is already stated above:

    India was a British possession for 300 years. They owned it and everything in the land, they could have taken anything they wanted. Again, they were not caretakers. They were colonial masters.

    However, they brought to the country a governmental system, educational systems, electricity, running water, and improvements too numerous to mention here. In addition, they still continue to provide aid to India.

    True, it is vexing to look back and know that one’s homeland was colonized for a period. But if the British did not colonize India, the French, Belgians, Italians, Portuguese or someone else would have done so. I submit that you owe a debt of gratitude to the British for what they did for India; with the exception of the partitioning.

    Compton Singh

  30. ShadeWolf1244 said,

    10.21.11 at 2:54 pm

    does anyone know much it costs?? im doing a project in school bout the diamond…i’m just looking for facts bout it..

  31. Indian said,

    10.28.11 at 11:16 am

    see guys! from all these conversations, i can understand that Punjabi people are happy about the fact that Britishers have the koh-i-noor because they signed a deal with them. most of the Sikh people left India and went to different countries. why? kohinoor was a deal by sikhs to help themselves to go out of the country and prosper their own families. they never had any idea how priceless that diamond was. actually india is all divided and ruled as a stupid country because of religion and hatred among those religions from the day this history started. i really hate to say that people in the above comments still fight for where should it go. some say Afghanistan and some say its actually belongs to the Sikh community. it actually belongs to the Indian government.

  32. Sukhendu Sekhar Ray said,

    07.05.12 at 3:28 pm

    It appears that Compton Singh is absolutely ignorant about India’s national history. British East India Company took indirect control of administration after it’s victory in the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and British Govt. took direct control with Queen’s Proclamation to that effect in 1861. Altogether they ruled for 190 years and not 300 years as said by Compton. It seems he does not also know the magnitude of exploitation,loot and oppression perpetuated during the colonial rule. Loot of Kohinoor diamond is a glaring example as to how 15 year old Maharaja Duleep Singh was compelled to sign the treaty after the Anglo-Sikh battle and fall of Lahore Fort. The treaty was a non-est even in the eye of law. Maharaja Duleep Singhji was deported to England and was also forced to embrace Christianity. The man-made famine of Bengal-Bihar-Orissa in 1773 and again in Bengal in 1943 when 10 and 3 million people died of starvation respectively coupled with brutal partition of Punjab and Bengal in 1947 are other few examples to explain the British brutalities in India,not to speak of the ruthless curbing of India’s First War of Independence,which,according to British historians was Sepoy Mutiny. Compton has a right to be admirer of the British,but he should not hurt the feelings of 1.25 billion Indians.

  33. Compton Singh said,

    07.09.12 at 2:20 pm

    Colonial mentality can be wearisome. The British did not help anyone, they did not develop India; the governmental system, educational systems, running water, electricity and technology was already there. There was no ignorance and backwardness. What they did was they loot and stole. They gave us nothing, and no one in the world speak and use the English language.

    I am familiar with this type of thinking and it is wearisome; One wonders if history is taught in Indian schools, or what exactly is taught.
    How can you loot what is already yours? The British could have done whatever they wanted to do with India, they chose to develop it and bring it into the modern age. Modern Indians seem unable to grasp the fact that by colonizing India, the British protected it from the other superpowers of the time.

    Are you aware of global history? Can you deduce what would have happened to India if the British had not colonized it? The history of the period tells us that the other superpowers like France, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Spain and others would have fought over it like a pack of dogs. The result would have been an area divided up into 30 to 50 little countries as they split it up. By colonizing India the British kept away the other superpowers, with the exception of Portugal, who they allowed to hold on to Goa.

    Are you aware of what Spain did to some of the countries they conquered and colonized? They completely exterminated the native Indian population in places like Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, the Canary Islands, to mention a few. There are no native Indian population left in those areas. We are talking about 25 to 50 million people during a 150 year period after 1492. African slaves were brought in to supply labor needs once the native Indians were exterminated during the search and pursuit of gold and other riches. This is not secret knowledge, just study up on History.

    Do you think the Spaniards would have treated the inhabitants of the Indian sub-continent differently? But the British kept them (and others) away. Would you like to say “thank you.”

    Ignorance is a terrible state only if it is harmful. Sometimes ignorance is harmless. We seem to be completely unaware of how much we owe to the British. But this state of being unaware is harmless.

    PS: As an exercise, have your children not learn the English language and see what their future would be like.

    Compton Singh

  34. M Kaur said,

    11.17.14 at 1:50 pm

    The koh-i-noor belongs to SIKHS ONLY in PUNJAB, AMRITSAR there is no doubt about it. It belonged to Maharaja Ranjit Singh and this is the only way forward if it is to be returned it should be returned to the Golden Temple in Amritsar!

    Other religions and countries are greedy and wrongly wanting the koh-i-noor and the British clearly know they stole it from Sikhs so should return it back to Sikhs. Simple.

  35. M Kaur said,

    11.17.14 at 2:35 pm

    But if Sikhs are given the koh-i-noor now it won’t be safe as the Indian Government won’t allow Sikhs to have it as the Indian Government are experts in killing Sikh minorities and have been doing so for many years. Sikhs have had to fight so much injustice and something that is rightfully ours should be given back to us- another injustice after not having our own country.

    British should keep the koh-i-noor safe for now and give it back to Sikhs once we Sikhs hopefully have our own country in the future.

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