Ethics in Gems and Jewelry (Jewellery) business
Gemstone heap, miniature painting in Kalpasutra
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Ethics in Gems and Jewelry trade: Influence of religion
Many modern Jains face a quandary when attempting to combine their personal values with their career aspirations. Yet, the Jewelry trade is, arguably, a business that has the power to corrupt its professionals due to the pressures that come with dealing with high-value items.
An honest Jeweler is a rarity, yet many Jains have found prosperity through the trade precisely because of their religious beliefs and strong reputations. As Jainism advises that achieving purity is determined through facing and overcoming life’s temptations, I would argue that the core religious values fit well with the honor code of a Jeweler.
India has been a center for the Gem and Jewelry trade since the very start of civilization, as attested by the Vedas and the Jain Agamas. The most popular Agama, the Kalpasutra, describes heaps of gemstones as the thirteenth of the fourteen grand dreams of Trishala, mother of Lord Mahavira. Here, Gem identification was listed as one of the 72 main skills to be learned by men. Most of the gemstones in ancient times were found in the sub-continent, including the Himalayas, Kalinga, Burma, Ceylon, and Afghanistan.
During the years of British rule, the wealth, riches, strength and influence of an empire were measured in terms of gold and Jewelry. At this time, India was exporting many commodities but imported only gold and gemstones due to a high demand by the aristocratic population. All these factors helped the Jewelry trade in India to grow and flourish.
I believe that it was actually the influence of religion that helped many Jains to enter the Jewelry trade. The Gem and Jewelry trade was treated as alparambhi (requiring minimum violence), making it ideal for Jains wishing to adhere to the principle of ahimsa. Motivation for wealth earned with morality (Nyaya sampanna Vaibhav) was exactly the solid background for ethics and morality that fit in with Jain values.
The high character and moral conduct of the Jains enabled them to be trusted by kings and aristocrats. The love for one’s religious community (Sadharmi- vatsalya) also played its role, and the established Jewelers contributed to this growth by training generations of Jains with the secrets of the trade, which led to many Jains prospering in the trade.
Factory of a Jain Jeweler in Jaipur
Rai Badridas Bahadoor Mookim, Court Jeweler
Trustworthyness of Jain Jewelers
As the Jain society continued to develop as a trader community, a large number of Jain people entered the Jewelry trade, particularly in the western part of India, in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The Jewelry business was not regarded merely as a trade but treated as a noble and highly honored profession. Jewelers were traditionally nurtured to be honest and trustworthy, strictly following the rules, ethics and traditions of the market. Thus early on, only trained, competent and virtuous people were allowed to be Jewelers. This honesty was combined with a skill and knowledge to deal with rare and high-value items, and evaluating gemstones was a difficult skill to acquire.
However, the secrets of the trade were only imparted to eligible students through a traditional system in which the teacher used to evaluate the family background of the student first, as this was treated as a guarantee of honesty and trustworthiness. The teacher nurtured his students with the qualities required of a true Jeweler, whilst equipping them with the necessary practical skills and theoretical knowledge of the trade. They were taught to be patient, calm, vigilant, creative and diplomatic, fitting the sort of values Jains were traditionally taught. Jain Jewelers functioned according to the following basic rules in particular: imitations were never to be sold as real; substituting of goods was treated as a major offence; a certain percentage was deducted in every transaction for charitable purposes.
These qualities made them popular in the trade and they were able to build trust with their esteemed customers, including emperors, monarchs, merchants and high-ranking officials. The Muslim Badshahs, Nawabs and Hindu kings appointed them as their court Jewelers, even permitting them to enter into their harems, a no-entry zone for males. As noted by the renowned historian Agarchand Bhanwarlal Nahata, “ Jains had the prime position in the gem and Jewelry trade".
For centuries they have occupied a dignified position as Jewelers for the rulers and Muslim Badshahs. It is evident that Jains held an expertise in this special trade even in the Sultan period of 13th century.” Indeed it has been alleged that Jewelers were held to be so trustworthy that the statements of a Jeweler as a witness could not be challenged even in the courts of British India.
Temple built by Jain Jeweler
Basan Mehta, Chairman GJEPC
Jain Jewelers contributed to the knowledge pool
Whilst the knowledge of a Jeweler is often kept as classified information, many Jains contributed to the knowledge pool by writing books. One of the earliest of these was written in the 14th century by Thakkur Feru, court Jeweler to Alauddin Khiljee, Badshah of Delhi. In the introduction of the Ratnapariksha (Gem Inspection) he mentions himself as a perfect Jain and clearly highlights the importance of religion to him and his trade. His description of the merits of the Jewelers is a key source of information about the ethical values of that period.
Many Jain Jewelers were responsible for the expansion of the Jewelry trade over the centuries since the Sultan period. During the 20th century, enterprising Jains decided to venture further afield, such as the Parson and Mogha families of Calcutta (Kolkata, West Bengal), who arrived in Thailand in the early 20th century and have proved highly successful. As Japan started cultivating cultured and Bibako pearls, many of the Jain families moved to Kobe, Japan, to make their fortunes. Further progress was made in the thriving markets of New York, Geneva and Antwerp and when gold and diamond mines were discovered in the African countries in 19th and 20th centuries, several of the Gujarati Jain families established themselves in Africa. In the latter half of the twentieth century, India’s thriving diamond-polishing industry cut 92% of the world’s diamond pieces. Diamond export from India (Rs.2.5 Crore in 1966) jumped to approximately Rs.35 thousand Crores by the end of the century and this amazing growth in only 35 years can be largely attributed to the Jain entrepreneurs.
However, the majority of these Jewelers have not simply basked in the luxury of their wealth, but opted instead to continue the tradition of contributing their time to charities and social work. A large number of educational institutes, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, dharmashalas and animal welfare centers are run by the Jain Jewelers in different parts of India. Many prominent charitable trusts were established by the Jain Jewelers for Social and Religious Services, and it is the Jewelers’ contributions that have maintained some of the Jain temples and upashrayas built outside of India. Naresh Kantilal, Rajnikanta Keshavlal Shah, Babulal Sanghvi are a few prominent names contributing to the conservation of old temples in India.
So, though indeed the Jewelry trade has connotations of corruption, for many Jain Jewelers religion has played a key role in their success within the industry. It is the very necessity for truth and trustworthiness that has helped maintain their strong reputations. Whilst it is increasingly challenging for us to reconcile our Jain values with our career aspirations, I would argue that the core values of truth and honesty can play a key role in any profession, allowing one to maintain their religious standards and achieve spiritual purity.
- This article was originally published in Jain Spirit, London under title "Diamond is for ever". The article is reproduced here by Jyoti Kothari, the author himself with permission from Atul Shah, the editor, Jain Spirit.
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