In India's gloomy economy, diamond jobs are not forever

Mon Mar 9, 2009 2:38am EDT
 
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By Rina Chandran

SURAT, India (Reuters) - For Jaysukhbhai Patel, a job cutting diamonds in the western Indian city of Surat was the ticket to a better life for him and his family of four. Last November, Patel's ticket expired when the small factory he worked in was shut like hundreds of others in India's diamond hub, as demand for the gems dipped in the United States and Western Europe, leaving more than 100,000 workers without jobs.

"I have worked in this industry for nearly 30 years, and I have seen many ups and downs," said Patel, father of three children who now works in a local library for less than half his previous wage of about 4,000 rupees ($78) a month.

"But I have never seen factories being shut like this."

The woes of Surat reflect a wider downturn for India's export sector, which accounts for a fifth of Asia's third largest economy. Exports have fallen four months in a row and the latest data available shows a slide of 16 percent in January.

The job losses in one of India's biggest earners come weeks before a general election that is also a potential hot potato for the Congress-led government.

During the boom years, an estimated 800,000 workers, mostly from the Saurashtra region of western Gujarat state, spent 10-12 hours a day in thousands of factories and workshops, cutting and polishing tiny rough diamonds for export.

Now mostly silent and shuttered, the factories are victims of a global financial crisis that has hit demand for the gem that defined this city for decades.

India processes about seven in every 10 of the world's diamonds, mostly cheaper stones less than a carat. Surat is the heart of the industry, built on the skills of its craftsmen, its cheap migrant labor and its legendary entrepreneurial spirit.   Continued...

 
<p>An employee sifts diamonds at a diamond cutting and polishing factory in Surat in the western Indian state of Gujarat March 3, 2009. Hundreds of factories shut down in India's diamond hub, as demand for the gems dipped in the United States and Western Europe, leaving more than 100,000 workers without jobs. The woes of Surat reflect a wider downturn for India's export sector, which accounts for a fifth of Asia's third largest economy. Exports have fallen four months in a row and the latest data available shows a slide of 16 percent in January.REUTERS/Arko Datta</p>