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21 May 2024
Palanpuri Jains Initiated Bombay Antwerp Diamond Trade Over 100 Years Ago

 Pic 1 - Nawabsaheb with diamond merchants in Antwerp

 Pic 2 - Nawabsaheb with Jain merchants and their families

A new, recently published study released to mark a century of the Bombay Antwerp diamond trade has highlighted how the first Palanpuri Jain families had not only initiated business ties in the European city over a hundred years ago, but some had actually settled there as early as the 1920s.

An article highlighting this lesser-known fact was published recently by Sifra Lentin, a Bombay Research Fellow among the panel of experts at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, a foreign policy think tank established in 2009.

The author writes, “Most diamond merchants with an Antwerp connection believe the trade between Bombay and Antwerp began in the 1950s and 1960s after the Second World War, but it was much earlier. Palanpuri Jain diamantaires from Bombay had already settled in Antwerp in the 1920s.”
She draws attention to “a sepia-toned photograph from 1928 of the last Nawab of Palanpur, Taley Mohammad Khan, with his compatriot Palanpuri Jain merchants standing in front of the Diamantclub Van Antwerpen (Diamond Club, Antwerp)”. (see Pic 1)

Another photo taken with the Nawabsaheb also includes “the wives of some of the Jain Antwerp merchants dressed in traditional saris” and has “two young boys seated at (their mother’s) feet”. Lentin writes that this indicates that “these orthodox Jains settled with their families in the port of Antwerp as early as the 1920s, a time when wives and children typically stayed home in India”.  (see Pic 2)

The article traces the roots of this early migration to a “1909 meeting of the community elders in Palanpur (that) decided their young men must seek business opportunities in British colonial cities as they offered better prospects”. It notes that the “Jains were attracted by the opportunities Antwerp offered despite the daily challenges of living so far from their culture. Not only were they vegetarian, but they did not eat anything growing in the soil like potatoes, onions, garlic, and carrots – all staples of European cuisine. But they built a strong support system within their community in Antwerp”.

Lentin also notes that among the early traders and families who established links in Antwerp were “Chandubhai Gambhirmal Mehta, whose firm was C.G. Mehta & Co.” and others “like Hemchandbhai Mohanlal Jhaveri of Hemchand Bros. and S.B. Shah, both from Patan and Surajmal Lalubhai, from Palanpur.”

Trade in those days was not easy. It involved sending “the small roughs that European manufacturers would not touch because of high labour costs… The Indian merchants sent the smalls to India in postal packages – Surat, Navsari, and Bombay were centers for cutting and polishing then. Some diamonds were absorbed by the Indian market… (the rest) were returned by post or carried in person to Antwerp. The beginning of postal flights to and from Bombay starting in 1932 helped reduce the time to send diamonds between the two cities.”
Click here to read the original article

Pics courtesy: Suresh Mehta, “Fragrant Folios: The Palanpur Story” and Gateway House

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