Desperate people sell family gold to survive

In Mumbai's jewellery bazaar, Mrs Kavita Jogani gingerly places her wedding bangles on the shopkeeper's scales, one of the thousands of Indians parting with their most cherished asset - gold.

It was not an easy decision - Mrs Jogani was desperate after her garment business took a severe hit in the past 11/2 years, with multiple Covid-19 lockdowns making it difficult to pay shop bills and the salaries of her 15 employees.

"I don't have any other option than selling the gold," said Mrs Jogani, 45, as she waited nervously for the shop owner to make her an offer.

"I bought these bangles before my wedding 23 years ago."

Business closures and job losses pushed more than 230 million Indians into poverty in the past year, according to a study by Azim Premji University, leaving many struggling to pay rent, school fees and hospital bills.

Their difficulties have been compounded in recent weeks by soaring prices for electricity, fuel and other items.

Desperate for cash, many families and small businesses have been putting up gold jewellery - their last resort - as collateral to secure short-term loans to tide them over.

Banks disbursed "loans against gold jewellery" worth Rs4.71 trillion ($84 billion) in the first eight months of this year, a whopping 74 per cent jump year-on-year, central bank data showed.

And many of these loans have gone sour with borrowers unable to keep up with repayments, leaving lenders to auction the gold.

Newspapers have been flooded with notices for such sales.

Gold has immense financial and cultural significance in India. It is considered essential at weddings, birthdays and religious ceremonies and also seen as a safe asset that can be transferred from one generation to the next.

Indians bought 315.9 tonnes of gold-used jewellery last year, almost as much as the Americas, Europe and the Middle East combined, according to the World Gold Council. Only China bought more.

Indian households are estimated to be sitting on 24,000 tons - worth $2.7 trillion - in coins, bars and jewellery.

"It is the only social security for the woman or any household because there is no such social security programme from the government," said Mr Dinesh Jain, director at the All India Gem and Jewellery Domestic Council.

"Gold is like liquid cash. You can encash it at any time of the day and night."

Mr Kumar Jain, 63, whose family has run a shop in Mumbai's historic Zaveri Bazaar for 106 years, said he has never seen so many people coming to sell. "It wasn't like this before the pandemic," he said.

Mr Jain added that his customers - predominantly women - have sold a vast array of personal jewellery in recent months including gold bangles, rings, necklaces and earrings.

Mrs Jogani was able to find some breathing space by selling some of her jewellery. In exchange for her eight bangles, a small necklace and a few rings, she got Rs200,000 rupees ($3,580) in cash.

"Earlier, I would neglect these things when my mother used to tell me that 'you have to save in gold'," she said.

"But now I know. Everyone should save in gold."

AFP

"Gold is like liquid cash. You can encash it at any time of the day and night."

- Mr Dinesh Jain, director at the All India Gem and Jewellery Domestic Council

 
 
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