For centuries, the Jain community has been known for its business acumen and profiting methods. They have been successful in many countries, most notably Belgium’s Antwerp where they led the diamond trade. A small Jain community, the Palanpuri Jains, has achieved an impressive presence in the diamond industry within a short span of time – barely more than half a century. Coming from the town of Palanpur in Banaskantha district of Gujarat, these Jains nurture an ascetic religion that puts great emphasis on ethical behavior.
The Palanpuri Jains, who arrived in Antwerp during the 1960’s, faced strong competition from the Hasidic Jews who had a tight grip on the diamond trade. Since the Hasidic Jews weren’t about to yield to competitors, the Palanpuri Jains took up the less popular segment of diamond dust, which were smaller diamonds that were too small to cut or polish. This, combined with the cheap labor available in Surat and Navsari aided the entry of the Palanpuri Jains into the diamond business. The processed diamonds were sold in Antwerp and other European cities, leading to the growth in popularity of the smaller stones in the global market.
In due course of time, the Palanpuri Jains took control of the whole diamond trade by applying their distinctive organization and using their familial and social networks to their advantage. Maintaining trust was key to the success of the business and the Palanpuri Jains achieved this by respecting the social and religious codes of the community, and through the use of revered couriers called angadias. The use of consensus building techniques and incorporating non-punitive measures for resolving disputes amongst community members also contributed to their success.
The Palanpuri Jains of Antwerp are truly an inspiring story of determination and trust to succeed in a classic example of working smart and hard. Every year, on the occasion of Mahavir Jayanti, the Palanpuri Jains humble beginning is recalled and celebrated as a remarkable success story.