The Prime Minister of India has launched two attractive schemes to use about 20,000 tonnes of the precious metal treasured by residents in their homes for the development of the country. The Gold Monetisation Scheme and the Sovereign Gold Bonds Scheme will enable people to earn attractive interest for the gold deposited and for the gold bonds purchased. This is a very laudable initiative to use gold for productive purposes. But what would be the response of the public in this regard?
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Unlike the citizens of many other countries, the affinity of Indians to gold jewelry has cultural and historical significance. Many are sentimentally attached to their personal jewellery. One incident narrated by an official indicates the emotional bond Indians have with the yellow metal. Income Tax sleuths were busy conducting a raid on a big business man in his residential premises. Officials unearthed huge amounts of cash from the premises. Obviously, the man, who concealed his true income in the income tax returns, had to just sit helplessly while the taxmen sealed the currency in suit cases. But the hue and cry from the man and his wife started the moment the officials began weighing the gold jewellery in the house. Though the jewellery was worth only about one-hundredth of the cash found, they became very upset when the officials seized those personal ornaments.
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. Parents and near relatives 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), upanayanam (sacred thread wearing ceremony among the Brahmin community), puberty ceremony, and marriage. 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, especially for the Indian women. 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.
Gold is also a reason for frequent fights between couples and between their 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. Many times misery awaited to those daughters who landed in the hands of avaricious in-laws. Relationships in Indian society are embedded with several sovereigns of gold jewellery which in turn defined the nature of reciprocity between people.
It will be a tough task to lure Indian families to part with their gold, even if that means an extra income. Another area of mobilization would be the huge gold treasure of religious trusts and those managed by royal families by giving them attractive interest. Many worship centres receive gold jewellery as offerings from the devotees and the same are kept idle.
One does not know what prompted Henry Ford to comment that the gold is the most useless thing in the world. Not only the women, the kings and the queens, but also the sovereign governments have an eye on the gold! Nevertheless, it will continue to be a cultural symbol and a source for women empowerment. The new slogan is ‘all that glitters is gold!’
(c) Sibichen K Mathew Views are personal