To think 11 lakh Indian goldsmiths have refused to work since March 17 and Rs. 200 crore of business has reportedly been lost in consequence. One percent excise duty on unbranded jewellery is proposed in Budget 2012 since ninety per cent of Indians buy unbranded jewellery.
Of course, we’re looking at a much-documented cultural preference here. The Casey Research website had an interview last week with two makers of branded jewellery from Jaipur, which says it’s not just the ladies, that farmers who have had monsoons over the last two years are tending to invest in gold and silver, that buying gold is a cultural wealth protection instinct with many of us.
Now which of us would say that we must avoid or evade rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s? But is anyone talking about job security, medical cover and retirement benefits for goldsmiths, beyond wanting a piece of their employer’s pie? Just asking.
And isn’t it vaguely disturbing that Sri Ram Navami is today and there’s a gold freeze on, though the epic hinges on the jewellery (a) scattered by Sita; and (b) sent with and received by Sri Hanuman?
There’s also the matter of the customer’s need to choose according to budget and taste. Some Indian women work for a living but that does not seem to interfere in the least with the time-honoured practice upheld in ‘Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam’ of making and unmaking jewellery.
It’s a cultural necessity, not luxury, for many Indians and why not, who says we should live in the pages of an Ikea catalogue?
Just think how many cultural freedoms are represented in the phrase ‘gehne banao aur gehne todo’: the very lollipops of Noah’s Ark. And think how ‘solah shringar’ was enjoined on the Indian woman as a religious and cultural duty, that even Sita was told not to go into the jungle without jewellery, which came in so useful later.
Even present-day shebabas are scolded by their well-wishers about bare wrists. To appease their affection, I often wear glass bangles from the rediwala which are taken as a fashion statement in foreign lands, to my unholy joy.
All said, since Indian women are expected to buy and wear gold, I can’t help feeling concerned about the sisterhood and about the goldsmiths going back unemployed to Bengali villages: for cultural deprivation in one case and deprivation of livelihood-by-skill in the other. Can you?
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture