by Florine Roche
Mar 8: Every year March 8th is observed as International Women’s day and the theme of 2019 “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change”. Kalpana Saroj an entrepreneur with a total turnover of over Rs 2000 crores from the six companies she runs adopted this policy in the 70’s when women could not even think in those lines let alone practice it. It is not that success came knocking at her door on a platter. She had to surmount innumerable odds and face gigantic challenges to climb the ladder of success. She had to brave poverty, a broken child marriage, caste and gender discrimination, lack of education and face societal pressure. It was her habit to listen to the radio that gave a new twist to her life making her what she is today – a Dalit girl who once lived in a slum and then started working in a garment factory - now an entrepreneur having over Rs. 2000 crore turnover. The results of hard work are always fruitful and Dalit girl Kalpana Saroj’s real life success story is certainly worth a read.
Born in a lower middle class family in Akola district of Maharashtra in 1958 Kalpana was married off at the age of 12 just after completing her 7th standard, succumbing to the societal pressure. As a child bride Kalpana lived in Ulhasnagar slum where her husband’s huge family lived. Once in her husband’s house, she was cut off all outside contacts that included her family. In that slum house she was treated merely as free maid to cook, wash and clean and over that she had to face physical abuses and ill-treatment from husband’s family members and beatings of her husband. When her father paid her a surprise visit and saw her pitiable condition he took her back to the house. She was back into her parental home within six months of her marriage and that was the first turning point in her life.
Back home Saroj had to face a different kind of challenge. Though she went back to school she was harassed and bullied and even the society began to taunt her and her family for her return. Many of them advised her to go back to her husband’s house. For Kalpana the mental harassment was unbearable and she even consumed rat poison to escape from such agony. Fortunately, she was taken to the hospital in time by her aunt and was nursed back to health. This incident proved to be the second turning point in her life and a determined Kalpana decided to take control of her life for the better.
She convinced her family to send her back to Mumbai as she felt that the financial capital offered plenty of opportunities for those who wanted to eke out a decent living. She began to work in a garment factory initially and did stitching side by side to add to her income. In a short time she had accumulated enough amount of money to rent a small house and move her family to Mumbai. She then open her own boutique and while working she had tuned into the radio where she came to know about a government scheme the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Scheme for backward classes . Kalpana took the loan of Rs. 50,000/- and started her clothes business and also began dealing with second hand furniture. Even when her boutique was doing well Kalpana decided to start a placement agency called Sushikshit Berozgar Yuvak Sanghatana to help the unemployed youth and in the process she became an employer. She was able to lead a comfortable life by now.
Fortune favours the brave lady
It is said that fortune favours the brave and for Kalpana the luck came knocking at her door almost after two decades of her initial success. At this juncture she was coaxed into buying a land by a man who was in urgent need of Rs. 2.5 lakhs. Kalpana agreed to pay Rs. 1 lakh but little did she know that she was deceived into buying the land which was under litigation. However, luck was on her side and this deal proved to be another major turning point in her life. Instead of brooding Kalpana went to the district collector with her newly acquired land and within two years she was permitted to sell the land. By now the cost of land had gone up to Rs. 50 lakhs.
Kalpana then gave the land to a builder and entered into an agreement. The builder had to construct building at his own cost and she got rights over 35 per cent of the finished building while the builder could keep 65 per cent of the rights. With this Kalpana had forayed into the big business of real estate in Mumbai which was not a small achievement for a woman. Her entry into real estate gave heartburns to some upper caste people and she even became target of Supari killing. But she faced all of them with steely nerves.
Apart from becoming a builder Kalpana became a litigation expert because of this one incident and her fame spread far and wide. This fame resulted in her getting control of a sick company - Kamani Tubes that was into manufacturing and supplying copper tubes, rods and LED lights. The company was closed following litigation and losses and the workers approached her to find a solution to the loss making unit which was shut down.
Over 140 litigation cases and an outstanding loan of Rs 116 crores would have deterred any other lesser mortal from getting involved in the affairs of the Company. But Kalpana is made up of sterner stuff and took the challenge with fortitude. She used her acumen and bargained with the government, banks, and loan lenders and got penalties, interest and a quarter of the principal amount waived off to help her revive the company. In 2006 she took over as the Chairperson of the company and within 5 years she was able to turn Kamani Tubes into a profitable venture. By 2011 the Company made a profit of 3 crores and since then every year the company is making a profit of 5 crores. There has been no looking back since then and Kalpana has got into other ventures and combined turnover of her companies is over Rs. 2000 crores. Taking into the hard way she has come up she is often called the original Slumdog Millionaire a nickname that truly reflects her struggle to come up in life and the success she has earned.
Not the one to rest on her success Kalpana Saroj continues to work hard with the same zeal, zest, devotion and perseverance that has transformed her into a big time entrepreneur. She now plans to invest in hotel business. Having gone through the worst of life Kalpana wants to help people in need especially women like her. She has founded “Kalpana Saroj Foundation” NGO to help poor and socially and economically backward people by creating awareness about the various government welfare schemes of the government. The Foundation also provides funds to various educational institutions to helps poor children get quality education. She has also undertaken charity work in her village back home to help her community where she wants to invest and create job opportunities.
As for her personal life, Kalpana she remarried in the 80’s and had two children. But her husband passed away after a few years. The children studied in Germany and London. Daugter Seema has done a course Hotel Management and Saroj is soon planning to get into the hospitality industry by opening hotels in Rajasthan. Her son Samir Saroj is a commercial Pilot. Kalpana has been awarded the Padma Shri award in 2013 for Trade Industry.
The incredible story of an empowered Kalpana Saroj is certainly an inspiration to all women who think big and want to chase their dreams or want to achieve whatever they aspire to.