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Tower of London. The Year of Our Lord, Two Thousand Fourteen. A fairly robust little Indian boy is sitting on a battlement, eyeing a murder of crows descend on a fish and chips cart, planning one of the greatest heists in history.
Of course, it wasn’t successful. If it had been, the aforementioned well-fortified Indian child — me — would be writing this op-ed from inside jail, eating the King’s prison porridge.
“Those bloody British.”
A key phrase, hard-coded into any good Desi’s frontal lobe. And for good reason — the Brits looted, conquered, and subjugated India for over 300 years. By the time they left, they had laid the foundation for what quickly became one of the world’s most dangerous, violent rivalries.
But put an Indian and a Pakistani in one room, and they will agree on one thing: F--- those bloody British.
So when my parents and I were staring at one of the largest diamonds in the world, the Kohinoor, studded safely in the Crown of the Queen Mother, I was not told about its history, its curse, its veneer, or its honor. I was told one thing.
“They stole that from us, you know?”
After the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II, there has been a groundswell of online support in India for returning the diamond, even landing #Kohinoor on the trending topics list on Indian Twitter.
The diamond is purported to have first been unearthed in the mines of Kollur in present-day Andhra Pradesh, after which it was passed from kingdom to kingdom, from the Delhi Sultanate to the Mughals, until it finally ended up in the hands of the Singh Maharajas of the Sikh Empire. It was Maharaja Duleep Singh Bahadur that finally handed over the Kohinoor to Queen Victoria, though he had little choice in the matter: The diamond was a cherry on the top of the 1849 Treaty of Lahore, which ended the Second Anglo-Sikh War and annexed Punjab to British Company rule.
The diamond was carted from British India to London, where it was extolled by the Marquess of Dalhousie, the man who had secured its provision by treaty. The British population, though, were rather unimpressed by the lumpy gem — this was not the “Mountain of Light” that had been advertised to them.
So Prince Albert cut the diamond in half just to shine it.
There’s a peculiar sort of parallel in that. Just like the Kohinoor was cut in half, colonial India was cleaved into the modern state of India and Pakistan — two nations and more than a billion people birthed into nearly a century of conflict. In many ways, Britain’s refusal to repatriate the Kohinoor feels like a hard, crystalline symbol of its unwillingness to let the sun set on the British Empire, to let go of the gem of their empire, to acknowledge their role in tearing apart a subcontinent.
Repatriation is a hot topic internationally. Former imperialist nations like France and Germany have pledged to return indigenous items taken by conquest, and university museums like Cambridge have promised the same.
Across the pond, in our very own Cambridge, Harvard has promised to return human remains housed in our museums, and a further push is being made to investigate how the University acquired these remains and many other such items. And yes, the guidelines are rather vague and left to the University’s discretion, but in general, repatriation seems to be on the rise.
In this respect, the United Kingdom stands as a bastion of stiff-upper-lipped, Earl-Grey-flavored resistance.
While some repatriations have been granted in the past, the British Museum Act of 1963 outright prohibits the deaccession of any artifact, barring special circumstances.
This is not likely to change soon. It seems that the ex-largest empire in the world is loath to acknowledge that its previous colonies have risen in the world stage, preferring to hold on to the policy of “finders keepers, losers weepers.”
So, my dear Brits, I now speak directly to you.
Hi mates. I hope you’re doing well.
First of all, R.I.P. Elizabeth. She may have contributed to colonization and spent decades as imperialism’s kindliest face, but as a person, she was formidable and generally loved.
That said, listen, we’re gonna need the diamond back. You lot barely even use it. And yes, this may not necessarily change in an Indian museum, but here’s the difference: For us, it’s a beacon of our cultural heritage, a jewel that represents the journey of a billion people’s ancestors through history, a special representation of the country; for y’all, it’s just another big, ill-gotten diamond.
Also, get with the program. Institutions all over the world are returning things to their homelands. You have a rich cultural history of your own to display that spans about 1500 years of everything Game of Thrones is based off of.
And, what do you even need the diamond for? Let me tell you, the real diamonds in your arsenal are the Great British Bake Off, Gordon Ramsey, and that one contestant on Love Island who thought Liverpool was a country. You can show them off.
As for our heritage, I found it eight years ago in a glass case, shimmering with the beauty of my homeland. When I visit that homeland, I should like to see it there, to gaze into its 66 facets and see my ancestors staring back.
And your dying empire should well know from its heyday:
Finders keepers. Losers weepers.
Anant Rajan, 13th Earl of Marietta, Ga.
Anant P. Rajan ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor in Leverett House concentrating in Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology.
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