The death of Queen Elizabeth II, ending her seven decades as Britain’s longest-serving monarch, has launched a period of shock and grief around the world.
But it also reminded many of the monarchy’s dark colonial past, with several current symbols being debated.
For example, shortly after news broke of the Queen’s death, the word “Kohinoor” started spreading on Indian Twitter.
It was a reference to the Koh-i-Noor diamond, considered the most expensive in the world, which can be found on display in the Tower of London, set in the crown of the Queen Mother.
The 105 carat diamond has a controversial past. For many South Asians, his loss represents the subjugation of India under British colonial rule, and his return is seen as a partial restitution of decades of economic exploitation.
Many users on Twitter have called on the UK government to return the diamond, with several questions raised over the future of the Koh-i-Noor when King Charles III takes the throne.
“The only difference that (his death) could make would be political,” Randall Hanson, director of the Global Migration Lab at the University of Toronto, told CTVNews.ca on Friday.
“King Charles inheriting the throne could have an effect on how robustly the Indian government could argue (for a return).
“But legally, (his death) makes absolutely no difference because the decision will not be made by the king but by the British government.”
The Koh-i-Noor will remain the property of the royal family. Camilla, the wife of King Charles, would inherit the crown along with the Koh-i-Noor.
But a more relevant question, according to Ritu Birla, an associate professor in the University of Toronto’s history department, is whether reparations can be made for the conquest, which may amount to the symbolic value of the diamond.
“People are also making broader arguments about reparations in the Indigenous context, for example,” she told CTVNews.ca on Friday.
“So this is a particular object, which obviously has great material and symbolic value, opens up greater questions as to whether there is, if there ever can be, adequate compensation for the violence of the conquests colonials.”
India is not the first country to ask the UK to return an artifact. In 2020, Greece’s Culture Minister Lina Mendoni urged that the 2,500-year-old Parthenon sculptures be returned to Greece from the British Museum.
The marble carvings have been the subject of controversy for more than three decades, with Greece making several demands nearly as long for a return to its original location.
In 2022, the British Museum proposed a partnership that could potentially see the sculptures returned to the country, although the terms are still unclear.
Still, the museum’s willingness to negotiate is a positive sign for Birla.
If Greece can accomplish that, then “there’s a leg to stand on (for other countries),” Birla told CTVNews.ca.
The Indian government has already tried to bring back the Koh-i-Noor. The diamond was first sought by the Indian government after the country’s independence in 1947. In the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, India made another request, according to The New York Times.
These requests were ignored by the UK, which claimed there was no legal basis to return the Kohinoor to India.
In 2016, a rights group asked the court to order the Indian government to bring back the diamond.
While initially saying the diamond should not be returned as it is “neither stolen nor forcibly taken by British rulers”, the Indian government reversed its position and said it would work to bring the artefact back.
During a visit to India in 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron told local media that the diamond would remain in Britain.
“If you say yes to one (request), you realize the British Museum would be empty,” Cameron said.
“I’m afraid he has to stay put.”
With files from Associated Press