After the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the public was dazzled by images of the Queen Mother’s crown, which can be seen in the Tower of London. But the Imperial’s Majestic Crown is not quite as it seems – as it contains within its bejeweled arches and ornate bezel a 105-carat gem diamond representing the brutality and insensitivity of the British Empire.
The Queen’s passing marks an opportune moment to finally draw a line under the scars of the past and signify truth and reconciliation between the ruler and the ruled.
That Queen Elizabeth behaved with remarkable grace, admirable demeanor on the throne, devotion to the public and an almost palpable sense of serenity, good humor and compassion is beyond dispute. But within hours of announcing her death, tens of thousands of tweets about the Crown Jewels had popularized the term “Kohinoor” in India. There’s a good reason for that.
No Indian – no person of color – could ever doubt her sincerity and indefatigability, but like her reign itself, her actions remained largely ceremonial. She was reluctant in her role, when she could have done much more. And now the imperial crown will be worn again, this time by the new queen consort Camilla, as King Charles III undergoes his coronation. She shouldn’t.
That the Kohinoor still remains within that crown, in my view, detracts from the credibility, moral fiber and supposed benevolence of the royal family. And it will continue to do so forever until it rightly leaves the British shores.
Preserving the jewel, which has been at the center of political and legal controversies in India for years amid disputes over its property, represents a dehumanization of the colonized; through which prejudices can manifest themselves for future generations. It acts as an apology for the racial supremacy of a (fortunately) crumbling empire, allowing a wounded island post-Brexit to cling to illusory victories and a false sense of nationalism.
That Queen Elizabeth II was smart enough to ensure that her reign was always largely ceremonial allowed her to appear unquestionable as former colonies exterminated themselves from the yolk of imperialism.
As for the Kohinoor, the queen steered clear of meddling in preserving the optics of the empire; and – by association – the rule that plucked it from a Sikh kingdom at the hands of an 11-year-old Maharaja.
If ever a single jewel could represent the exploitation, looting and slavery in which the British Empire participated during its time in India, it would be the Kohinoor diamond.
It represents the spoils of a bygone era. What good is it now in the hands or on the head of the Queen Consort?
Some of the most brutal acts of British colonialism took place after the Queen had already ascended the throne, such as the concentration camps in Kenya where the Mau Mau freedom fighters were tortured. And all expressions of regret over the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919 were denied by her husband who questioned the death toll and, with it, the depth of the depravity of the brutality fueled the Indian nationalist movement.
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King Charles III, a person not particularly wary of matters of political expediency or geopolitical influence and lobbying, might be well placed to address this elephant in the room (or the jewel in the crown, if you will): the return of the Kohinoor diamond.
This would be a way to deal with the crimes of the empire and the systematic heartless looting of a nation that was one of the richest in the world at the time.
Historically, the royal family has turned away from the blatant theft that was typical of the time of the empire in India and can only beg forgiveness. History cannot be erased, but returning the diamond can erase the darkness that rises from the imperial crown each time it is driven away.
It’s insulting. It is a rebuke to all colored people who have been colonized. It’s time to put the Kohinoor diamond back where it belongs.
Saurav Dutt is an author, political analyst and script doctor