Diamond market dimmed by death of traders

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The Independent Online

Manoj Shah was taking his usual journey home on Tuesday evening when a bomb went off on his Mumbai commuter train. Mr Shah, 32, was travelling in the first-class carriage where the explosion took place: he didn't stand a chance and was killed. But Mr Shah was not your average commuter. Every day, he handled diamonds worth thousands of pounds. He may even have been carrying some with him in the train when the bomb went off.

Mr Shah was one of Mumbai's diamond traders. Yesterday, the city's famous jewel market was deep in mourning. Mr Shah was not the only diamond trader to die: the diamond market suffered the worst death toll of any single community in the bombings.

India is the world's biggest exporter of cut and polished diamonds. The Mumbai market is one of the main centres for the international diamond trade. Yesterday the industry was in shock, as the names of the traders who had been killed in the bombings kept on coming. Of the 179 confirmed dead so far, at least 15 worked in this market. Many more were injured, and the traders fear the death toll will rise.

"We don't know why we had so many dead," says Bharat Radia, secretary of the Mumbai Diamond Merchants' Association. "We don't believe we were specially targeted. The bombs went off at 6.30pm, when our traders are on their way home." Many of the diamond markets of the neighbouring Gujarat state were closed yesterday in a mark of respect to the dead. But the Mumbai market refused to close. It was business as usual, insisted Mr Radia. "We want to show that Mumbai people are not afraid," he said. "They got the trains running again within hours after the blasts, and we opened the market back up the very next morning."

The traders packed a memorial meeting for their dead colleagues yesterday evening.

Bharat Shah tipped an envelope of diamonds worth £7,000 on to the desk. From his tiny shop, just four feet by six, he says he does $10m (£5.4m) of business a year. It was in shops like these that those killed in the blasts worked. The diamonds are imported uncut to India, and cut and polished by the craftsmen of Gujarat. They are then sold on through the Mumbai market. The language of the diamond market is Gujarati. The trade is dominated by Gujarati Hindus, for it is in their state that most of the cutting and polishing is done.

In a strange twist, the dead from the bombings have included a disportionately high number of Gujaratis. That has led some Indian newspapers to speculate that the Gujarati community may have been specifically targeted. It was in Gujarat in 2002 that at least 2,000 people were killed in anti-Muslim riots, and the authorities have said they suspect Islamic militants were behind the attacks.

All eight of the bombs in Tuesday's attacks were left in first-class train compartments, a fact no one has yet been able to explain, especially given they would have caused more deaths in the more crowded second-class compartments. The diamond traders are known to take first-class carriages, partly because they often take diamonds home with them for safe-keeping.

Mr Radia dismisses the speculation. "They weren't targeting Gujaratis," he says. "They were just targeting upper-middle income people. We were hit because we fit that description."