Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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Social Concerns


A passage through India makes diamonds less bloody

Living in India, I grew up with diamonds. The most precious of stones that women and even men use in this country, diamonds are still an integral part of Indian lifestyle. They are used every day. They are also used for ceremonial purposes. If women regularly wear diamond ear-tops and nose-studs, men wear diamond finger-rings. More elaborate jewellery made with the stone is a ritualistic part of festivals, marriages, engagements and so on.

But I never knew that diamonds that looked so virgin and pure could be smeared with blood. Till of course, I saw the gripping film called “Blood Diamond” in 2006. Directed by Edward Zwick and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly, it showed how diamonds have been killing, maiming and destroying innocent people in Africa, and for decades. And the movie made a strong impact, because it packaged an ugly truth in a wonderful narrative, scripted and performed extremely well.

Billions of dollars from illegal mining of and trading in diamonds have been used by rebels in countries such as Congo, Liberia, Angola and Sierra Leone to fuel wars against established or legitimate governments. And in these wars thousands of people have perished. Even the Al-Qaeda has used diamonds to finance terror. That is how a diamond came to known as “Blood Diamond”. And the stone still savages.

Shockingly, India appears to have had a hand in this carnage, and continues to be guilty. In the city of Surat in the Western Indian State of Gujarat – where one of the greatest apostles of peace, Mahatma Gandhi, was born – blood diamonds are cut and polished before being sold in some of the most fashionable markets of the world – in Europe, in America and in Australia. Reports say that a passage through Surat has been giving African blood diamonds a stamp and seal of respectability.

Surat is the centre of the world's diamond cutting and polishing industry. Ninety-two percent of the world's diamonds are crafted there. Located 250 km north of Bombay, the city earned India USD 11 billion in exports in 2006. The reports add that a sizeable number of rough diamonds entering Surat may in fact be blood diamonds.

Fishing boats are used to smuggle blood diamonds into the city, where the stones are given finishing touches and sold to big brands, which, in turn, export them with a false certificate declaring that they have not come from the conflict zones of Africa.

However, the Surat Diamond Association with about 3,000 firms as its members, claim that it has nothing to do with blood stones, and that it adheres to international norms that ban dealing with such offending diamonds. "We are aware of the implications of dealing in blood diamonds and we are very careful," insists Bombay based Shrenuj and Company, a leading jewellery manufacturer and exporter.

The company could be speaking the truth. It is a large firm that cares about its reputation. But in Surat there are tens of small concerns that have no reputation to guard and are only bothered with profits.

And it is impossible to find out whether a diamond has been mined in a conflict zone once it has been polished and refined. So, the guilty stone soaked in blood would have to be stopped at the point of entry, which is an airport or seaport. Obviously, those who import such stones are not going to use these points of entry. Rather, they would smuggle them on board small fishing boats, which, in turn, would collect their cargo from a big ship waiting outside India’s maritime boundary.

With 700,000 men and women working in the roughly 6,000 diamond factories of Surat, the government has to play safe. It cannot take drastic measures, for they would jeopardise the lives of thousands of families.

Be that as it may, a global campaign highlighting the evil of blood diamond pushed the United Nations to pass a resolution calling for the creation of an international certification scheme to break the link between the illicit trade in rough diamonds and mass human-rights abuses associated with armed conflict.

The international community and the diamond industry woke up then. The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme was put in place in 2003 to regulate the trade in rough diamonds and assure buyers that the stones they buy are clean. This means that diamonds are monitored at every point – from mining to retail – to make sure that stones from conflict countries are kept out.

The diamond industry now says that the Kimberley process has solved the problem. But a UN report in 2006 drew attention to blood diamonds from war-torn areas in the Ivory Coast. Well, diamonds continue to be a rebel’s best friend. Maybe, the woman should part with her best friend. Only then will the stone lose its sheen.

(Webposted November 22 2007)