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India says British Queen should keep its Koh-i-Noor

Koh-i-Noor was neither stolen nor forcibly taken away, government tells SC

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth's crown is carried through the Norman Porch of the Palace of Westminster after the State Opening of Parliament on June 4, 2014 in London, England. REUTERS/POOL/Oli Scarff
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NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India should relinquish its claim to a huge diamond that it has fought for decades to get back from the British, the government told the Supreme Court on Monday, because the stone was given to its former colonial ruler rather than stolen.

One of the world’s largest diamonds, the 105-carat Koh-i-Noor has been part of the British crown jewels for 150 years and today forms part of Queen Elizabeth II’s crown.

The stone has been at the center of a long-running diplomatic row, with many Indians demanding Britain return the diamond to atone for its colonial past.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on Monday told India’s Supreme Court that it should forgo its claims to the jewel because it was in fact given to the British as a gift by an Indian King, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, in 1851.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth's crown is carried through the Norman Porch of the Palace of Westminster after the State Opening of Parliament on June 4, 2014 in London, England. REUTERS/POOL/Oli Scarff
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth’s crown is carried through the Norman Porch of the Palace of Westminster after the State Opening of Parliament on June 4, 2014 in London, England. REUTERS/POOL/Oli Scarff

“It was neither stolen nor forcibly taken away,” solicitor general Ranjit Kumar told the Supreme Court during the hearing of a case calling for the stone’s return.

The Koh-i-Noor, on display in the Tower of London, is set in the crown worn by the current Queen Elizabeth during her coronation in 1953.

The Duchess of Cambridge, who last week visited India with her husband, Prince William, will wear the crown on official occasions when she becomes queen consort. William is second in line to the British throne.

During a visit to India in 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the diamond would stay in London.

“What tends to happen with these questions is that if you say yes to one, then you would suddenly find the British Museum empty,” he said.

Indian campaigners believe the diamond is one of many artefacts taken from India by the British during colonial rule.

“The British rulers looted India and the government is making a mistake by not supporting our claims,” said Nafis Ahmad Siddiqui, who petitioned the Supreme Court for the stone’s return.

(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty, Rupam Jain, Writing by Rupam Jain, Editing by Tommy Wilkes and Nick Macfie)

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  • Allan Joseph Raju

    If a famous actor feels he should settle outside the country then it is anti national. But if the Gov’t. Makes a mockery of the Indian public, misrepresents the true facts, and claims that the Kohinoor taken as a “prize won in war” by the britishers was a gift…. Then that’s patriotic. Its just a matter of time before we give off Arunachal Pradesh also as a gift to China.

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  • Allan Joseph Raju

    If a famous actor feels he should settle outside the country then it is anti national. But if the Gov’t. Makes a mockery of the Indian public, misrepresents the true facts, and claims that the Kohinoor taken as a “prize won in war” by the britishers was a gift…. Then that’s patriotic. Its just a matter of time before we give off Arunachal Pradesh also as a gift to China.

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)