In Belgium’s Antwerp, the diamond capital of the world, a diamond trader is most likely to be from one particular religion and one particular village in India. The Jain community is known for its excellence in business and trade not only in India but in many other countries too, most popularly in Belgium where they trade in diamonds.
In little more than half a century, a small Jain community, the Palanpuri Jains, so called because they come from Palanpur town in Banaskantha district of Gujarat, has got a hold on diamond trade in Antwerp. On Mahavir Jayanti today, here’s the story of a community which is known to have attained business excellence due to their ascetic religion that puts great emphasis on ethical behaviour.
In the 1960’s, when Jains from Gujarat’s Palanpur, mostly Shahs and Mehtas, started arriving in Antwerp, the diamond trade was controlled by a tight-knit community of the Hasidic Jews ruled by their own community regulations. The Palanpuri Jains were in no position to compete with them, so they started out by operating in a related smaller segment, the diamond dust, the very small diamonds which are not easy to cut or polish and thus drew little interest from the Hasidic Jews.
Since Jains operated in a segment which was not considered important, the Hasidic Jews did not feel threatened by them. In fact, it is said the Hasidic Jews also provided credit facilties to the Jains in the beginning. From Antwerp, the trading hub for rough diamonds from South Africa, Australia and Siberia, the Jains bought smaller diamonds, or diamond dust, and sent them to Surat and Navsari where they could get them cut and polished from high-skilled but cheap labour. Few in Antwerp would bother to cut or polish such small diamonds. The processed diamonds were then shipped back to Antwerp and sold there and in other European cities.