At 8 am, Nagjibhai Warya, 54, is at the gate of a four-storey swanky glass building at Kajniwadi in Surat. A security guard thoroughly frisks him and checks his lunch box before letting him inside.
Warya has been working in the building for over 15 years. But “no tenure”, he says, “is long enough for a diamond factory owner to trust an employee.”
A fortnight ago, diamond polisher Atul Goti, 35, had allegedly jumped off from the third floor of a diamond factory after he was reportedly beaten up by the factory manager, who suspected him of replacing a high-value diamond with a low-value one.
The factory Warya works in is among the hundreds that make Surat the diamond manufacturing hub of India, churning out “Rs 100-crore worth of diamonds each year”, according to its owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Several CCTV cameras are installed across the premises, including one on the way to the toilet, to record the movements of its 500 polishers who chisel rough diamonds imported from Belgium.
Warya deposits his wallet, keys, mobile phone and lunchbox in a locker before taking the stairs to the second floor. “We have a lot of work to do, and can’t wait for the lift to take us to our floors,” he says.
The shopfloor is full of emery wheels, their whizzing sound filling the air. Some workers sit on plastic chairs around the wheels, others on the floor. Warya heads to a cabin where five “sub-managers” are at work. One of them opens a drawer, takes out a rough diamond, weighs and notes down its carat, puts it in a paper packet and gives it to Warya. The sub-manager instructs him to chisel out eight facets from the uneven diamond, each of a set dimension.
Warya nods, heads out, takes off his shirt and sits down at the emery wheel that he shares with three other workers. Before they start, Warya uses a cloth to wipe the wheel, the wooden frame on which the diamond is fitted, and the tube-lights fitted above.
The several tube-lights keep the shopfloor well-lit, yet Warya uses a magnifying glass to ensure he sticks to the specified dimensions. Once he is done with a diamond, he shows it to the sub-manager, who weighs the stone and examines its cuts and clarity with a magnifying glass. The sub-manager then sends it to another section for some more finetuning. Meanwhile, he assigns another rough diamond to Warya, whose average daily target is 20.
Their job requires intense concentration, but Warya and his colleagues manage to take some time off to talk about politics, their families, and their native villages in Saurashtra. Warya left his village, Gidhardi, in Amreli district in 1976 and joined a diamond unit in Surat for Rs 400 a month. Today, he earns Rs 17,000 a month.
Polishing is the first step in the processing of rough diamonds, after which their ‘tails’, ‘bases’ and ‘crowns’ are made.
At each step, there can be “no room for error”, says Warya. “If a diamond is not fixed properly on the wooden frame, it can get thrown off the emery wheels and go missing. If that happens, workers like me are responsible for searching it. Till it is found, this floor is locked, and no one can leave. If it is not found, the owner doesn’t pay one month’s salary to the polisher,” he says.
Such cases, though, are rare. More commonly, “a diamond can get damaged, for which the owner deducts 50 per cent of the polisher’s salary”, he says. Diamond, he adds, is too hard a stone, and even a slight damage can alter its design. “But, as humans, we are bound to err,” he says.
Talking about the death of diamond polisher Goti, Warya says it’s difficult to say if he was in the wrong. “But there are a few notorious ones (among polishers). They hide low-carat diamonds in their mouths and bring them to the factory. Then they replace them with the high-carat ones,” he says.
It’s 8 pm and a weary Warya winds up for the day. Back at the gate, he is frisked once again — his pockets, wallet, mobile phone cover, and lunch box are checked — before he exits.