SURAT (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – After polishing diamonds destined for luxury stores from New York to Hong Kong for nearly 10 hours in a cramped workshop in western India, Vikram Raujibhai went home, waited for his family to leave, and locked the front door.
Raujibhai doused himself in kerosene and lit a match.
His family returned to find the 29-year-old’s charred body, his case the latest in a series among workers with low wages and poor work conditions in India’s booming diamond industry, as uncovered by a Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation.
Investigations spread over a year in the western Indian state of Gujarat found a pattern of suicides – many shrouded in silence – in the industry that cuts and polishes 90 percent of gems sold globally, with many workers paid per stone.
A few workers in the industry earn fixed wages – some even up to 100,000 Indian rupees ($1,450) or more a month – but over 80 percent of the total workforce earn a piece rate of 1 to 25 rupees for each stone they polish and have no social benefits.
Interviews with diamond unit owners, brokers, labor groups, families and the police revealed nine suicides since last November in the city of Surat, a hub for the trade, and the Saurashtra region where the workers are from.
But experts said this was likely to be just the tip of the iceberg in India, where industry figures show diamond exports surged 70 percent in the past decade, with no mandatory certification to ensure diamond processing is labor abuse free.
Families are reluctant to blame the diamond business, which employs over 1.5 million men – mainly from drought-prone parts of Saurashtra – for fear of losing work, with few other...