Mumbai: Kalpana Saroj,
50, is the daughter of a Dalit police constable in Akola district
of Maharashtra. Today she heads a Rs.3,000 crore business
Saroj was one of five women entrepreneurs at the first trade fair
organised by the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI)
who have fought not only social prejudices but also gender bias.
The trade show aimed to change the traditional image of Dalits -
some of India's most socio-economically marginalised - as always
being seekers and dependent on government aid. And these five
women - Saroj, Geeta Parmar, Aparna Kadam, Sana Ansari and Ishita
Lal - had more to be proud of in a field that has historically
been a male-dominated affair.
Saroj was pulled out of school and married off at the age of 12
only to return home in a pathetic state due to the physical and
mental torment of her in-laws.
She attempted to join the police force at age 13, but failed. She
tried her hand at nursing and failed again. She then learned
stitching and sewing and made efforts to stitch clothes of her
fellow villagers. But this only antagonised the villagers who
thought a 'returned bride' was stepping beyond her social
"At the age of 15, I moved to Mumbai and was lucky enough to be
sheltered by a benevolent Gujarati family. I then joined a hosiery
unit on a wage of Rs.2 per day and have never looked back since,"
Saroj told IANS.
At 22, Saroj married a small-time furniture manufacturer. She also
revived his ailing steel-cupboard manufacture business.
This mother of two then started a construction company. "In 1995,
I bought a piece of land at a throwaway price and managed to clear
encroachments and other litigation on it," Saroj told IANS.
In 1997, with the help of institutional finance, Saroj erected a
residential and commercial complex at a cost of Rs.4 crore and
sold it for a tidy profit.
Often referred to as someone who turns an ailing business to a
profitable one, Saroj took over Kamani Tubes. "A brand leader in
non-ferrous tubes, the company was started by Mumbai's well-known
industrialist Ramji Kamani, a Gandhian and close associate of
Jawaharlal Nehru," Saroj said.
Today Saroj's interests include various industries such as
construction, hotel, sugar, non-ferrous tubes and art galleries.
She is all set to enter the steel business soon.
Another such example is Parmar, who, along with her husband, has
been running a furniture manufacturing business since she married
in 1971. Though 61, she is as fit as a fiddle and puts in long
hours to manage the business in Mumbai while her husband manages
the factory in Gujarat.
"It took me some time to settle down in Mumbai. Out of sheer love
for the family, I went on to help my husband alongside taking care
of my three children," she said.
Also fighting her own battle in a man's world is Kadam, 28, who
runs her own event management firm alongside leather and jewellery
"Event management is a strictly male-dominated business. You will
see girls working for the firms, but not owning them," Kadam said.
"I still face dirty competition from my male counterparts in this
business. But with the support of my husband and family, I will
make it big here," she added.
An artist and freelance corporate designer Lal, however, thinks
life has been easier for her. "I am mainly into corporate
branding, marketing and rebranding and have given new faces to
existing businesses by way of my rebranding ideas," Lal said.
"I am glad that I have not faced as many problems in my career.
However, I have not been professionally trained in art. Hence, the
challenge for me is to emerge as the best in whatever I do," she
Also sitting quietly at her stall and attending to the visitors is
Sana Ansari, 36, who runs a small manufacturing unit that makes
scarves and 'hijabs' for Muslim women.
"It started about eight years back when my 20-day-old daughter
Iqra's head needed to be covered with the long scarf that women in
our community wear. I designed a scarf that could stay on her tiny
head and not fall off," Ansari said.
"A lot of women asked me where I got it from and that they also
wanted the scarf for their infant daughters. I started to make
them on my own initially and also started making 'hijabs'.
Gradually, it prospered and I hired people to help me with the
Ansari supplies the 'hijabs' and scarves all over India and
produces over 10,000 pieces each year.
(Mauli Buch can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)