(The Power of the yellow metal -for everyone from women to Gods)
By Dr Sibichen K Mathew
Income Tax sleuths were busy conducting a raid on a big business man in his residential premises. Unfortunately for him, the taxmen could gather several incriminating documents indicating large scale tax evasion. Most shocking was the discovery of bundles of currency in gunny bags from various nooks of the house. Officials counted the same with the help of counting machines which totaled them at two hundred and twenty five lakhs. Obviously, the man had to just sit helplessly while the taxmen sealed the currency in suit cases. The man had omitted to pay the taxes due by him all these years while sweating hard to earn every rupee of those amounts seized. Bad luck!
The silence in the house was suddenly broken with a sudden hue and cry from the man and his wife the moment the officials started another exercise. That happened when the sleuths started weighing the gold jewellery in the house. Though the jewellery was worth only about five lakhs of rupees, both the husband and wife became very much disturbed by the process of weighing the jewellery. It is really surprising that similar emotional pressure and depression never surfaced at the time of counting and seizing crores of currency from the residence. They begged with the officials for not seizing the jewellery and tried to give every possible explanation regarding the source of funds for the jewellery.
The above incident is just one of the manifestations of the extent of emotional bond Indians have to the yellow metal. As in many societies and cultures, the life of an Indian centers around a number of familial, social and religious functions. This is irrespective of and usually thrusted upon by his primordial affiliations. In almost all functions, the presence of (or presents of) gold jewellery is inevitable. Even when the child is in the womb of the mother, a ritual called ‘valaikappu’ is performed on the pregnant woman in most of the places. All the elderly women and her parents adorn her with gold ornaments. Later, after the delivery it is a common tradition to feed the child with gold and honey (within hours of the birth). Gold chain is put on the baby’s waist on the twenty eighth day after the birth. After a few months, the naming ceremony is conducted wherein the child is given new ornaments by the close relatives. It is customary to receive gold jewellery during ceremonies and functions like tonsuring and ear-boring ceremonies, annaprasannam (first meal ceremony), vidyarambham (initiating the child to learning alphabets by writing on her tongue, mostly with gold), upanayanam (sacred thread wearing ceremony among the Brahmin community), puberty ceremony, marriage (where jewellery with thali or mangalsutra is tied and adorned on the bride by the bride groom. All these are occasions for people to run to the nearest jewellery shop. Thus the jewellery has become an important cultural artifact for Indians.
Apart from the above cultural significance attributed to gold, it is also a metal which brings along with it emotional and social security, empowerment and social status. For Indian women gold is both a source of security as well as power. Unlike many other family assets, women hold the role as the custodian of the gold jewellery in many homes. That has made the attempts of many men to dispose of the jewellery not as smooth as in the case of other family assets. It also gave the women emotional and economic security as they have the option to pledge or sell a part of the jewellery for personal emergencies.
However, it is also a source for frequent fights between couples and between both families. Gold jewellery takes the form of a villain in many relationships. People make and break marriages in the name of the quantity and quality of gold jewellery. There are several instances were desperate fathers have adorned their daughters with gold coated imitation jewellery to keep up their status amidst financial troubles. Only misery awaited to those daughters who landed in the hands of equally avaricious in-laws. Relationships in society are embedded with several sovereigns of gold jewellery which in turn defined the nature of reciprocity between people.
The possession of gold as a valuable asset providing easy liquidity at the time of financial crisis is widely recognized by many Indian families. It is an asset which is transacted more widely and frequently than any other asset such as land, cash deposits, shares, debentures etc. Though many still consider gold as a poor choice for investment as compared to real estate and bank deposits, the overall price fluctuation of various assets as compared to gold need to be considered. The price of 10gms of gold in the 1950s was less than Rs 100/- , and the same costed about Rs 4500 in the year 2000. The gold price almost touched a whopping 10000 mark in May 2006. It is not only a good hedge against inflation, but also increasingly recognized as akin to other liquid assets like bank deposits as financial institutions give loans on retail gold reserves.
India’s stock of gold is conservatively estimated at about Rs 500,000 crores and it continues to be the world’s largest consumer of gold. At least one-fifth of world supply of gold reaches India. It is projected that the dwindling global gold reserves, combined with increasing demand from countries like India and Japan will result in further steep rise in gold prices. One does not know what prompted Henry Ford to comment that the gold is the most useless thing in the world.
Though the demand for gold and gold jewellery has increased irrespective of the sharp increase in prices, the younger generation seem not much inclined to adorn themselves with the heavy stuff. These days, the preference is for lighter ornaments of latest fashion and craftsmanship. Young brides take pride in more costly but less crowded diamond studded gold jewellery to massive necklaces and other matching accompaniments. Platinum is yet to pick up its market for various reasons.
If people are not so fascinated with gold these days, the elasticity of demand is maintained by anther set of consumers. They are the Gods and Godmen. Famous temples are replacing the silver plating on their idols with gold. Many temple trusts have started renovating their temple domes with more quantities of gold. Many famous temples in India receive gold jewellery as offerings from the devotees. It is reported that major temples in South India receive an average of about ten kilograms of gold from the devotees every week. The Saibaba Sansthan Trust has recently decided to buy a gold throne weighing 325kgs for the Shirdi saint at a cost of 22 crores.
Thus the demand for gold is here to stay and the price could go to unpredictable heights. Even if it is argued that it is an investment fetching only conservative returns, it guarantees to give social and economic security to the Indian middle class. Also it will continue to be a cultural symbol and a source for women empowerment. The new slogan is ‘all that glitters is gold!’
It is said that Iridium and Ruthenium (both from the Platinum family) are added while making god jewellery. In 2006, Bureau of Indian Standards had issued a circular to all hallmarking centres to look for Iridium and Ruthenium (Times of India 30 January 2009)
Musings for a responsible society
Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my life...in vain!
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