According to the British Indian co-author of the definitive book on the infamous diamond, the obvious absence of the Kohinoor, which India claims, from the historic Coronation ceremony of King Charles here in London on April 29 reflects a new reality of looking back at Britain’s colonial past and to learn more about the truth of the Raj. Queen Camilla’s decision to use the Queen Mary Crown at her Westminster Abbey coronation without the Kohinoor, according to Anita Anand, co-author of “Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond,” with historian-author William Dalrymple, is a direct result of the sensitivity surrounding colonialism in contemporary Britain.
The diamond has traditionally been a part of the crown worn by the monarch’s consort at coronations; the most recent example of this was when Elizabeth, subsequently Queen Mother of Queen Elizabeth II, wore it in May 1937 at the coronation of King George VI.
Anand stated in an interview with PTI that “the choice not to use it [Kohinoor] reflects this new reality that we’re in, where people are reflecting on colonialism and what colonialism meant to both Great Britain and the countries that were colonised.”
“It is a real testament to a sensitivity that exists now here in Great Britain to learn a little bit more about the truth of the Raj and colonialism… There is a real disparity of what people know about the Kohinoor diamond and what it represents, because I think the Kohinoor has become this hard, cold prism through which we can now look at colonialism and what it meant both to the colonised and those who were colonising,” she said.
Being born and raised in the UK, it was obvious that the history of Britain’s colonial past was not included in the school curriculum. Her other joint project with William Dalrymple, the wildly popular “Empire” podcast series that examines the history of British colonisation beginning with India, was inspired by this, among other things.
“There is a need to understand the tales that lie beyond the headlines, and I believe that up until now, the headlines have been extremely deceptive. When I was a child, the Raj was associated with maharajahs, elephants, gold, and glitz, as well as men in pressed shirts and pith helmets who frequently came to the rescue.
The Indians served as a backdrop, resembling furniture in a scenario. And when that shifts, individuals are rethinking their positions. “I think it’s with a younger generation, who demand answers and are dissatisfied with the stories—or lack thereof—that existed in this country,” said Anand, a Punjabi native and author of “The Patient Assassin,” a book about the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of April 1919 that took place during the Raj.
She frequently observed that people were surprised by the emotions the Kohinoor diamond caused in many Indians and why it was one of the hotly debated topics in diplomatic circles until Buckingham Palace announced that it would not be displayed during the ceremony on May 6 at Westminster Abbey.
“Up until very recently, the Kohinoor diamond was thought to have been a gift from India to Great Britain if you visited the Tower of London and saw it there in its glass case. According to some British historians, it is a token of gratitude for all of the advantages Britain left behind, including democracy, railroads, infrastructure, and the rule of law, the author writes.
The contested diamond, which in Persian is known as the Mountain of Light, has become more obvious as curiosity about what actually transpired grows. It wasn’t a gift.
“Except if you consider a present to be given while brandishing a bayonet. With reference to Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last Sikh ruler who was exiled to England and forced to sign away his empire in the 19th century, Anand said, “It was taken from a little boy who was separated from his mother, from anyone he could trust, and forced to sign away his future, his family’s future, and the Kohinoor diamond.
Anand, a senior journalist for the BBC, has also chronicled the complete story of the famed diamond in the “Empire” podcast, which has recently topped 7 million downloads and, according to Anand, surpassed all expectations.
The author-broadcaster is now anticipating another significant milestone: the unveiling of a commemorative blue plaque at Princess Sophia Duleep Singh’s residence later this month.
“I’m very, very proud that a woman that I wrote my first book on – Sophia Duleep Singh, who happens to be Maharaja Duleep Singh’s youngest daughter – the last family to own the Kohinoor, is finally going to have a blue plaque on the home where she lived at Hampton Court (outside London),” she said.
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