I normally don't watch the Budget session in Parliament. Earlier, because I was a working person, and lately, because you get to hear a summary later, on any of the news channels. Economic jargon is not my strong point, and even it is was, the session is all about someone decreeing some new rules, without asking what I think.
This year, well into my retirement years, I was waiting for folks to come home at lunchtime, and simply switched on the idiot box . And something made me pay attention to what the speaker was saying while presenting the budget. No, it wasn't about allocations for toilets in rural schools, or adult literacy amongst women workers or things like that.
Turns out that folks coming back from "abroad" and carrying purchases of jewelery, often cribbed about "harassment" from the customs people; so the budget had upped the limit of jewelery people could purchase and bring into the country, without paying duty. Up to Rs 1 lakh for women and Rs 50,000 for men !
I was totally thunderstruck by the ministerial empathy, and the official response to the "harassment".
Actually , I doubt if raising the allowance of dutiable gold was the answer to the harassment.
About 20 years ago, my late mother (she would have been 95 next month), went to the US on a family visit. Unlike today, where people change jewellery to match their outfits, her generation, at 75, was all about wearing some standard typical traditional jewelery which was hardly ever removed. Many times, the jewellery had some family memories associated. Like her traditional diamond studs , which were given to her by her father, when she had her first child, way back in the forties.
This was not her first visit abroad, and she was a bit surprised on her return, when someone in the Customs section decided to ask her some questions. This was around the beginning of the Green Chanel days, and for someone , who had absolutely no interest in electronics, but enjoyed buying excellent vegetable peelers, cardigans with hoods, and pyrex bowls, she was about to go through the Green channel.
The guy pointed to her earring studs, an asked about them. Indicated that it might be dutiable.
(Harassment was common, but not an "acceptable" noun then).
The Customs guy got a withering look from her.
What he didn't realize, is that she knew all about diamonds, how to judge them for purity, the various cuts; she knew how her earring stones were cut, and she also knew , that the current modern cut prevalent in jewellery was different. Many younger ladies in the extended family often took her along when making wedding jewelery purchases and stuff.
He was told in no uncertain terms, the history of the acquisition of these earrings, the specific cut of the crystal then in the 40's , the name of the older cut, the occasion on which these earrings were presented. He was also told that the older cut was now replaced by a newer cut (she even knew the name), thanks to some newer technology. And all modern jewellery sported this.
He was given a short lecture on what the current 'cut' prevalent on the diamonds was, and that is could be observed by an expert studying contemporary jewellery.
She also indicated to him, that wearing these was a common feature with ladies her age, and these pieces of jewelery , like mangalsutras and nose rings, were not not subject to frequent removals.
Watching a grandma level lady lecturing one of their own, got some other officers interested, and they all came by to listen. At the end of it all, she admonished them saying, she was stickler for rules, would have herself declared any jewelery , she might have purchased. And that she was ashamed that they intimated old ladies like this.
(Never mind, that she thought Indian jewellery was amazing, the best and that we had some very talented and clever karigars, and why would anyone want to by jewellery abroad? )
And she requested them that they should upgrade their knowledge about diamonds before troubling folks and wasting their time.
I doubt if the current raising of allowances on dutiable jewellery will make a difference. I wonder if it would help to train the customs folks better. Maybe they already have this training now, since the profile of the international traveler has changed a lot.
For harassment to reduce, we must be well informed. Raising allowances will not work.
But I just remembered this story.
And the sense that it gives me, that "learning" is really the gold standard in life.
Regardless of age.....