21 Apr Kohinoor and The Mystery Behind It ?
The Koh-i-Noor (Persian for Mountain of Light; also spelled Koh-i-Nûr and Kooh-è Noor) is a large, colourless diamond that was found near Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, India, possibly in the 13th century. It weighed 793 carats (158.6 g) uncut and was first owned by the Kakatiya dynasty. The stone changed hands several times between various feuding factions in South Asia over the next few hundred years, before ending up in the possession of Queen Victoria after the British conquest of the Punjab in 1849.
The Story as to how Duleep Singh ‘handed’ it to the Queen
At a Supreme Court hearing on the Kohinoor issue on Monday, Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar surprisingly stated on behalf of the Culture Ministry that “the diamond was neither stolen nor forcibly taken away”. Instead, Kumar claimed, the stone had been ‘gifted’ to the East India Company by the former rulers of the Punjab.
The supreme Court justice themselves then advised Kumar, that such a stance would threaten India’s ability to later stage any further claim to the diamond. Supreme Court has prompted the government to issue a new statement, in which it was asserted that their views had “not yet been conveyed” and that the Solicitor-General had merely “informed court about the history of the diamond”.
How could the Solicitor-General come up with his narrative, which is dramatically at odds with the records of Punjabi history.
One document in particular sealed the fate of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the Sikh Empire and the Kohinoor diamond in one fell sweep: the 1849 Treaty of Lahore. This treaty was presented to the Maharaja to sign after the Second Anglo-Sikh War of 1848-9, at a moment when an anti-British rebellion by Punjabi soldiers and ‘sardars’ had been clinically suppressed by the company. This was a rebellion in which the boy king had himself played no part, but for which he was made to suffer the consequences , as the then Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie, had decide that he would no longer allow the troublesome nature of Punjabi independence to thwart British imperial ambitions of India. Dalhousie’s Secretary, Sir Henery Elliott, was duly dispatched to Lahore at the end of the war, and he told Duleep Singh and his courtiers that they were to sigh away the kingdom without hesitation, or face much harsher consequences.
The treaty presented by Elliott to the boy Maharajah included clauses for the takeover of the Punjab and all its state property by the Company, as well making provisions for a life pension for Duleep Singh and his family. It also featured a distinct clause about the Kohinoor, which read thus: “The gem called the Koh-i-Noor, which was taken from Shah Sooja-oll-moolk by Maharajah Runjeet Singh, shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England.”
If the Kohinoor was intended as a gift by the Maharajah to Queen Victoria, the use of the term “surrender” in this document would certainly suggest that it was given unwillingly to say the least. It would even seem that the British Queen herself was aware of Duleep Singh’s sensitivity on issue –as can be seen from an account written by Lady Lena Login (wife of the Maharajah’s guardian, Sir John Spencer Login), who was present when Duleep was briefly reunited with his lost gem at Bucking ham palace, in the summer of 1854.
Lena Login wrote in her memoirs that the subject of the Kohinoor was deliberately not mentioned in Duleep Singh’s presence, since it was a painful reminder of the loss of his dynasty’s imperial sovereignty. However, the matter was brought up by the Duleep Singh, when she privately asked Lady Login whether “the Maharajah ever spoke of the Kohinoor, and if so, did he seem to regret it?”
The Queen offered to show him the diamond once again, thinking that it might please her new Indian friend, but only after it had been ascertained by the Logins that it would not provoke an awkward or angry reaction from him.
Afew days later, Later Login stood spectator with great trepidation when the Queen surprised the Maharajah during his portrait sitting at the palace, bustling into the room with the diamond and several Beefeaters in tow. In a tale that is now famous, Duleep Singh reportedly trembled as he took the precious stone in his hand, gazing at it intensely and noting how it sparkled much more than before, but was also much smaller to hold since Prince Albert had ordered it’s re-shaping. Lady Login recorded her fear that he would hurl the jewel out this quickly melted into relief when, instead, the Maharajah turned and bowed low before the Queen, “expressing in a few gracious words the pleasure it afforded him to have this opportunity to himself placing it in Her Hands.”
Perhaps this is what the Solicitor-General is referring to as the “gifting” of the Kohinoor. However, the existence of a treaty and the presence of royal guards surrounding the Maharajah surely make it clear that this was far from a free willed act, despite his dignified and magnanimous approach. What other choice did he really have?
One wonders what good a relatively narrow debate over a wretched stone could provide for healing the long-lasting wounds inflicted by British imperialism on South Asia; but if we are going to have one, let our legal authorities at least do their history homework before getting on with it.