Up till 8.30 pm on the night of November 8, 2016, Muniram Yadav was blissfully unaware of the announcement that had shaken the country just thirty minutes before. He was engrossed in work, in a tiny workshop in Mumbai’s Sakinaka suburb, supervising four labourers as they carried out a very specific activity: polishing metal moulds of different shapes with a powder that was made from the dust of diamonds.
When chiselled, the world’s most expensive gemstones leave behind debris that has its own afterlife – startlingly, as an ingredient in the production of everyday plastic goods. If diamond powder is not carefully applied to every inch of the metal moulds used to make pens, bulb holders, boxes, parts of kitchen appliances – a process that is termed “polishing” – these plastic products will not have their distinct, glossy sheen.
Eighteen years ago, Yadav too had been a daily-wage worker polishing moulds with diamond dust. Then in 2003, he poured in his life’s savings to set up his own mould-polishing business. Over 13 years, he proudly watched his profits grow. He went from employing one labourer to four. His family was able to move from a slum home with one room, to another with…