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“A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman.” – Melinda Gates
This quote very well suits the First Women entrepreneur of India – Kalpana Saroj, a Dalit entrepreneur who stood against society and built the empire of $112 million business. From sleepless nights on the road of Mumbai to having two roads named after her in Mumbai, she has come a long way.
She is called the real ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and a Padma Shri award recipient. So now, let’s move ahead in detail, into the life of the Kalpana Saroj and her path of struggle to Success. A journey from Slum dweller to a Multi-Millionaire.
Kalpana Saroj: Early Life
Kalpana Saroj was born & brought up in a Dalit family in the Roparkheda village of Maharashtra. It was difficult for girls at that time to experience equality, dignity, and primary education. In addition to these difficulties, child marriage was a common thing. Girls were regarded as a family liability and this was the reason why they have been prepared to marry at a younger age.
Kalpana Saroj’s dad was a police constable and the person who sent her to the local school in the village. She remained part of bigotry even though she was successful in her studies. It is the unpleasant reality of our Indian culture that to this day, there is injustice. It is declining, though so it is indeed present yet.
Early Marriage (Balika Vadhu)
Zeher ki pudiya (tiny packet of poison) was what her maternal uncle used to name Kalpana Saroj as a child. A girl child is just a liability to the family, he said. Her father was not a highly educated man, but he was liberated in his beliefs and encouraged her to finish her schooling. Child marriage was the rule in the Dalit community where she grew up. Against their unified front, her father was helpless and she was helpless too. She got married at the age of 12 because of peer pressure while she was a student in class 7.
Marriage Life of Kalpana Saroj: A hell for her
Kalpana Saroj used to live with her spouse and in-laws in the slums of Mumbai. After her wedding, she was treated like a servant. Like hell, she was battered. Her in-laws abused her and made her like a skeleton that walked. They were a bunch of sickos and she was the easiest convenient target there. They’d go for the smallest reason to strike at her, violently hitting, smashing, kicking for too much salt in rice or room not scrubbed clean sufficiently, and so on.
Six months later, Kalpana’s father came to visit her. He was stunned looking at her. He said he had seen a living skeleton and not his daughter. He decided to take her back along with him. She started her life appeared to her to be like dying.
Returning home: Became a nightmare
If you are in India, don’t forget, residents are more worried and focused on your content rather than their own business. People’s quips were killing Kalpana like snake venom. Not even one eyebrow was lifted at how much she has been asked to get it through once her father got her home immediately.
Just like most other women who return to their parents’ home post marriage, she had to bear the stereotype. Immediately, Kalpana Saroj wanted to apply for different positions in medicine, the police force, and even the military. Passing Class X, though, was a requirement for all the jobs she had registered for. And therefore, one sultry day, she laid the toxin down. In the blink of an eye, Kalpana’s aunt rescued her.
Kalpana Saroj: Second Innings
Kalpana Saroj’s suicide attempt brought a huge change in her. She was very sensitive and quickly hurt prior to the suicide attempt. There was nothing but misery in life for her. When she left the hospital, she knew that she would suffer if she had a life and it was her responsibility to tackle them. And when she’s gone, people would have a disparagement, but she might survive as well. She was given a second innings of life and now she was not going to let it go to waste for another second on self-pity.
The decision to go to Mumbai
Since there were no work prospects in her hometown, Kalpana Saroj pleaded to her family to let her shift to her uncle’s house in Mumbai. At just 2 rupees in a fabric factory, she made her debut. She learnt the art of sewing machine operation and became a professional tailor. She was able to earn a decent salary. Just a while later, her father lost his career due to bureaucratic wanders.
Kalpana Saroj was the eldest daughter and now the only breadwinner of the family member. She deposited her cash reserves and rented a small room for forty rupees a month. She was joined there by her siblings and parents. Things were moving on board, but she lost her sister because her family was unable to arrange cash for medication.
Kalpana Saroj: Stepping into the shoes of an Entrepreneur
At that moment Kalpana understood the importance of money. There was something major she wanted to do. She was not happy with her normal growth and her job was not fulfilling the expected need during the phase of her sister’s operation. Kalpana gave herself the commitment to become an “Entrepreneur.”
She had learned about a government loan scheme for a Dalit on the radio. She asked for it, and she got the funds within a couple of months. She began her business with this money by adding several sewing machines and proceeded to work 16 hours a day. And for her, it wasn’t enough. She invested her cash in the affordable furniture business which also her.
She married Samir Saroj, a businessman engaged in the steel furniture business, at the age of 22, and now has two children from this relationship, a son and a daughter. The marriage didn’t last long.
She also began an NGO where they collected and spread information about the different government loans and programs provided to people like her. She didn’t want a single individual, a boy or a girl, to go through what had been going on with her. She decided to let everyone realize that if they just wanted to figure out how they might do great things in their lives.
Welcomed Opportunities opened handed
About the same period, at a rock bottom price of Rs 2.5 lakh, A man came to her with a decision to offer a plot of land under the lawsuit. Kalpana Saroj found gold with that in multiple ways than one. It took two years to settle down the case and as the sun rises, the value of her land rose up to Rs. 50 lacs. It also opened the way for her to join the Real estate sector in Mumbai.
According to the findings of the Socio-Economic and Caste Census 2011, a Dalit female was an interloper in a country whereby 45 percent of Dalit families are landless.
Kapana decided to build a building, but yet she had to face more difficulties like the land mafia in Mumbai had called a hitman to kill her. This was planned because she had purchased controversial land and that announced her entry into the real estate business. Now there was no stopping for her to be a wealthy real estate business tycoon.
The opportunity of Saving a dying Company
Ramjibhai Kamani, a visionary trader in recently independent India, was a follower of both Nehru and Gandhi. He came to Kurla after Independence and opened three firms – Kamani Tubes, Kamani Engineering, and Kamani Metal. His thoughts were deeply rooted in the interests of workers and their well-being. He had huge dreams for the growth of the economy and wanted to be a vital cog in the development of the community.
All went well with him, but not so long after his demise, A conflict arose out between his sons in 1987. This was the time, the labour union went to the court of law to argue that the equity should be shifted to the workers because the founders were behaving against the company’s best interests.
Kamani became the first company in India where the Supreme Court shifted the control to the Workers Union from the legitimate heirs. But if three thousand holders are going to be in it, who’s really going to do the task properly?
They had tremendous resources and no competence to use them. From 1987 to 1997, the business managed to crawl on. It was not a choice to close it down. Since the servants were bosses, who were to do the shut-down? When the investors knew what was really going on, they went down sharply. The supply of power and water has been cut.140 cases of lawsuits against the business had been filed. It accrued a liability of 116 crores.
There were two unions playing it out for dominance. Of the three Kamani businesses, two were in liquidation. The third appeared to have been set to go the same downward direction.
It was why the workers came to Kalpana Saroj, pleading to her to save their dying company and, thus, their lives. She had gained a respectable reputation in those communities from her thriving NGO and business skills. Her knowledge was zero, but she was given encouragement by the thought of 566 hungry families. She had nothing to lose.
Kalpana Saroj on a Mission
In 2000, the company appointed her as a president only to take a charge of all the debts stuck on the company. Kalpana Saroj with her plan developed a specialist team for every department.
From 2000 to 2006, the company was facing court cases and the main reason was the debt of 116 crores with penalties. Kalpana decided to approach the finance minister to forgive the penalties and interest of the debt unpaid. She said, “If the company goes into liquidation, no one will be benefited”.
Finance Minister had lengthy discussions with the bank. Not only were the penalties and interest sums repealed, but they also excluded 25% from the basic amount. Life has gotten much simpler, now that the loans had been minimized to less than half of the initial amount.
Kalpana Saroj’s Achievements
Kalpana was appointed chairman of the organization in 2006. The court had passed her the possession of Kamani Tubes. Within seven years, they were told to pay off the loans from banks. Within one year, they were able to achieve it. Within three years, they were told to clear back pay for the workers. In three months, they made it possible.
She is in the process of purchasing the other two divisions of the Kamani corporation that went into insolvency, and hopefully, she is going to rebuild the kingdom that it was once.
Words of Wisdom
Degrees in the Elite School and fancy MBAs is not what makes an entrepreneur. Grit, Dedication, and a Superhuman willingness to believe in yourself does.