The diamond trading community in Mumbai, a majority of them Jains, is following the terror raids in Brussels, more closely than most.
Work goes on as usual at Panchratna, SoBo's diamond hub. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Naresh Mehta, secretary of Bharat Diamond Bourse, which has its headquarters at the Bandra Kurla Complex, says, “Antwerp is a diamond hub for India. Most of us have relatives there. At least 200 diamond traders from Mumbai and Surat travel to Belgium and Antwerp specifically, every month.” Antwerp is just a 1.5-hour road journey from Brussels.
Mehta says there is a sense of disbelief and hurt over the attacks. “For, so many people here, Belgium is like second home. We have a Derasar (Jain temple) in Antwerp. Families in Mumbai have members who have been travelling to Belgium since the 1960s (when the diamond hub shifted from Amsterdam to a “more liberal and safer” Antwerp). We feel inextricably woven into the fabric of that country. In the 1980s, Indians faced competition from Jews in the diamond business, but today, we rule,” says Mehta, with a hint of pride that is quickly tempered with sobriety. “We are praying for Belgium,” he finishes worriedly.
For Sulsha Jhaveri, a member of the diamond community, who is in Mumbai on a holiday, Belgium is home — she has lived in Antwerp for 36 years. Sulsha’s flight to Mumbai took off an hour before blasts shook Brussels airport. “Indians don’t feel alienated in Belgium. We may be immigrants there, but our community is so well integrated with locals,” she says. “So many restaurants serve Jain food. Belgian chefs often point out to us that we cannot eat a dish because it has a root vegetable,” Sulsha says with a smile. “A changed Belgium may await me when I return in a few days. But, whatever it is, it will still be home.”
For Shefali Jhaveri, a resident of Walkeshwar who has travelled regularly to Antwerp for three decades to meet her family — also diamond traders — the attacks “are like a bloody smear on a picture postcard of the most beautiful part of Europe”. “So many things flash through my mind now, like how safe will it be to go to the Meir (Antwerp's shopping hub)… It will take some time getting used to the new normal in Belgium,” she says.
Dilip Shah, a member of the Mumbai Diamond Association, says the blasts hit a nerve here. “The attacks took us back to the day when terror struck the diamond hub of Opera House in 2011. We lost friends in that blast. Back then, a concerned community in Belgium rang us up frantically. This time, it is just the opposite; we are calling them up.”
The city’s airport airport and metro attacks in Brussels on Tuesday had left 31 dead and some 300 wounded. Pressing ahead with a huge European terror crackdown, the Belgian police on Saturday shot a suspect and detained six others. The raids came as investigators said they had uncovered new evidence of a European jihadist cell tied to the Brussels attacks, November’s Paris attacks and a new French plot