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Women entrepreneurs shine at Dalit trade fair

Sunday December 18, 2011 02:27:25 PM, Mauli Buch, IANS

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 enterprise.

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 boundaries.

"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 manufacturing businesses.

"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 said.

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 tailoring."

Ansari supplies the 'hijabs' and scarves all over India and produces over 10,000 pieces each year.

(Mauli Buch can be contacted at






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