Kalpana Saroj is often described as the ‘original slumdog millionaire’. She is the Chairperson of Kamani Tubes in Mumbai, India. She bought the distressed assets of Kamani Tubes Company and successfully steered the company back to profits. Born in acute poverty and having suffered physical and emotional abuse as a child bride, she overcame all odds to become one of the top women entrepreneurs in India.
Kalpana Saroj’s Early Life
Kalpana was born into a poor Dalit household in Maharashtra, India. She was the eldest among her five siblings. They lived in a small chawl for Dalits in Akola. Due to poverty, her father a Police constable, got Kalpana married at the tender age of 12 to a man 10 years older to her. Kalpana moved to Mumbai with her husband where they lived in a slum with his family. As a daughter-in-law, she was forced to work at home day and night. Still, her in-laws abused her physically and mentally at every single opportunity. Six months after her marriage, when Kalpana Saroj’s father visited her in Mumbai, he was shocked to find his daughter looking ill and extremely weak doing all chores in a slum. Immediately Kalpana’s father took her back to their home in Akola even against his family’s wishes.
A New Beginning
Being a Dalit child bride who had left her in-law’s home, Kalpana faced social ostracism every day. She even quit schooling after Class IX. People blamed her saying she caused trouble to her parents. Sad and dejected, Saroj tried to end her unfortunate life by taking poison. Luckily Kalpana rushed her to the hospital in time, where she was saved after spending a few days in the ICU. This incident made Kalpana strong. She started to work as a tailor in Akola and earned 2 rupees for each work. She then pursued her father to let her return to Mumbai, the city where she spent the worst days of her life, to earn a better money so that she could support her family. In Mumbai, Kalpana Saroj worked as a seamstress in a sweatshop and made a paltry 5 rupees for her work. This did not let her dreams die. After her father lost his job, Kalpana called her parents and siblings to come and live with her in a small rented apartment of just Rupees 40.
In Mumbai, Kalpana’s sister died of a curable illness as the family could not afford her treatment. After this loss, Kalpana realized that money was very very important. She determined to earn enough money to take care of her family. Kalpana took a government loan after much struggle, to set up a workshop that made first copies of high-end furniture. She worked almost 16 hours a day to make sure she could save money and invested it into buying a property that was valuable but still stuck in a legal quagmire. She won the case and then ventured straight into the risky world of real estate of Mumbai.
Even though she received threats from the underworld, Kalpana made some money in real estate. Then she decided to take a risk once again by investing her time energy and money in the debt-ridden Kamani Tubes was about to be liquidated. She took over as Chairman of Kamani Tubes and restructured the company and its fortunes. Today Kamani Tubes is over a 100 million dollars company!
Awards and Recognition
Kalpana Saroj has been awarded the Padma Shri by the Indian government in 2013. She was appointed to the board of directors of Bhartiya Mahila Bank, a bank primarily for women, by the Government of India.
Kalpana’s success mantra is:
Hard work is not overrated. It is fail proof. What you want – whatever it is, you shall only get if you apply yourself wholeheartedly and work towards it with a single-minded vision.
Kalpana Saroj has successfully shattered the social and gender glass ceilings as a Dalit and as a woman and emerged as a top entrepreneur. She has proved that no one can stop a woman if she determines to achieve something.