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Dalit Entrepreneurs Breaking The Glass Ceiling

Updated: November 3, 2012 2:11 pm

While the country is witnessing scams with each passing day, the Dalit entrepreneurs are scripting a success story as their number is rising steadfastly. This was corroborated when Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) launched its 16th Chapter last week in Lucknow, where Dalit entrepreneurs gathered from all over the country and they pledged to work for the uplift of Dalit cause.

At a time when there is concern over Dalits still remaining backward despite reservation, a new class of Dalits are making the grade, i.e. Dalit entrepreneurs. India’s Dalits whose growing electoral influence has been visible for some years, are beginning to slowly reveal their economic muscle. A miniscule but expanding group of first-generation Dalit entrepreneurs has thrown up some millionaires. This has triggered debate on the role that economic liberalisation has played in changing their fortunes. According to the Dalit Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), there are over 30 Dalit crorepatis (one whose net wealth exceeds a crore or 10 million rupees) in the country. While the number of crorepatis is exceedingly small especially since there are around 170 million Dalits in India, the success stories—most of them are tales of rags to riches—indicate that in the new India, Dalits can begin hoping to figure in Fortune’s list of millionaires.

In its attempt to respond to emerging challenges of post-Cold War world India initiated a process of reforms in its economic policy during the early 1990s. These reforms proved to be an important turning point for the country in many different ways. Under the new regime, the state began to withdraw from its direct involvement with the economy. Private enterprise was allowed and encouraged to expand into areas of economic activity that were hitherto not open to it. Though some scholars have pointed to the fact that the growth of private capital in India began to accelerate during the early 1970s , it is during the post-1991 period that the private capital in India experienced expansion at an unprecedented rate. This expansion was not merely in terms of growth rates and profits, India also experienced an important ideological shift during the 1990s. The socialist rhetoric that had been so central to the Nehruvian idea of planned development lost its charm. Markets and middle classes came to occupy the centre stage of India’s cultural landscape, displacing the emblematic ‘village’ and its poor peasants.

The Nehruvian state had also worked out its own modes of dealing with those who had historically been on the margins of Indian society. The quota or reservation in government sector jobs and state-funded educational institutions was the core of the state policy for the development of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). Growing privatisation of India’s economy and declining avenues of employment in the state sector also meant shrinking of jobs available under the quota system for reserved categories. The expanding role of private sector in technical and professional education could similarly contract the space given to the historically marginalised groups in India’s higher education system. It was in response to the growing restiveness among a section of the Dalit intellectuals about this negative implication of liberalisation policy that Dalit entrepreneurs came together and formed Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DICCI).

Although, Dalits still lag behind the rest of India, they have experienced gains as the country’s economy has expanded. A recent analysis of government survey data by economists at the University of British Columbia found that the wage gap between other castes and Dalits has decreased to 21 per cent, down from 36 per cent in 1983, less than the gap between white male and black male workers in the United States. The education gap has been halved.

Another survey conducted by Indian researchers along with professors from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard showed that the social status of Dalits has risen as well, as they are more likely to be invited to non-Dalit weddings, to eat the same foods and wear the same clothes as upper-caste people, and use grooming products like shampoo and bottled hair oil.

For most of India’s history after Independence, the government was the only thing that could improve the Dalits’ lot. For nearly all Indians but especially for Dalits, a government job, even a low-level one, was the surest ticket out of poverty, guaranteeing education, housing, a salary and a pension. Few in the socialist government or in India’s generally risk-averse society saw entrepreneurship as an attractive option.

But that has started to change. Since 1991, when India’s economy opened to the world and began its astonishing growth trajectory, hundreds of thousands of new businesses have been created, leaving an opening for millions of people who never imagined that owning their own business was even possible. A small handful of Dalits were uniquely poised to take advantage and they emerged victorious.


Based in Ukraine, Rajesh Saraiya is India’s first Dalit billionaire. Born in 1969 to a middle class family in Dehradun, he completed his education in aeronautical engineering from Russia. He runs a multinational company SteelMont Pvt Ltd that deals in metals. SteelMont has a turnover of $400 million. Rajesh’s story was one of the success stories at a conference organised by Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries (DICCI), which inspired many other entrepreneurs. “People have to change from inside. They have to change their ideology, their mentality and look around the world for what is happening. There are so many opportunities,” Saraiya said.

Ashok Khade owns a thriving $32 million construction business in India’s commercial capital, Mumbai. In his company, there are 4,500 employees. He is building a dockyard for his company, drives a gray BMW and wants to buy a helicopter next year. A first-generation entrepreneur, 56-year-old Khade’s success is remarkable because he is a member of India’s Dalit caste. As a young boy, he lived the life of these “broken people,” facing crippling poverty and discrimination. He was not allowed to draw water from the village well, could not enter the temple and was forced to attend school in segregated classrooms. Khade started working as a technician in a Mumbai shipping yard in 1979 and studied engineering in the evenings. He quit his job in 1992 and used the salary from his last two months to start Das Offshore Engineering, designing and building unmanned offshore platforms for oil companies. Thereafter, he never looked back.

The Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DICCI) was established on April 14, 2005. Its aim is to instil the spirit of entrepreneurship into Dalit youth to develop business leadership, thus empowering them to walk in step with the world. DICCI founder Milind Kamble, who is a successful entrepreneur running a business with an annual turnover of about Rs. 70 crore, explained that the national body that is headquartered in Pune was set up on April 14, 2005 the birth anniversary of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar to promote Dalit entrepreneurship as a solution for their historic socio-economic problems. The DICCI works to remove barriers for Dalit business promotion by helping aspiring entrepreneurs to help set up their business ventures, besides providing critical inputs to the existing Dalit enterprises for further growth. The main idea is to bring together all Dalit entrepreneurs under one umbrella to strive for economic inclusion among Dalits, he said.

It is worth mentioning that DICCI has a presence in 18 states with 2,500 entrepreneurs whose combined annual turnover runs to Rs. 20,000 crore. This has given direct employment to about five lakh persons and indirect employment to 10 lakh persons. While Mr. Kamble is currently the Chairman, the organisation has grown with the help of new state chapters. Its membership base is rapidly expanding as more Dalit entrepreneurs become aware of its activities and what it can offer to them. The activities of its members are quite diversified ranging from manufacturing (sectors such as chemicals, agri-products, frozen foods, plastics, textiles, pest control, metals and metallurgy, marine engineering, solar energy, sugar refining), construction and services (health care, hospitality industries, education and international trade).


Advisor, DICCI

India is a nation of varied cultures, religions, castes and languages on the basis of which a line is drawn, the line that divides one Indian from another for certain vested interests and political games and gimmicks. Dalits are a part of Indian society then why draw a line of discrimination? They may be well schooled, immaculately bred and reasonably educated, some feel that they lack the Queen’s language, improper and shoddy diction of the colonial tongue hinders their way of keeping up with others. Now with passage of time, they too have realised the importance of the English language that will surely help them stand on a par with others. In an interview to Uday India, Chandra Bhan Prasad, Advisor, DICCI, spoke on the issue of Dalit entrepreneurs and other related issue. Excerpts:


What is your viewpoint on Dalit capitalism?

Our slogan is that Dalits are job givers and not job seekers. Dalit capitalism will help everyone grow up in terms of wealth and status and I believe that everyone has a right to live with freedom and liberty. Untouchables are not permitted, in South of India, particularly Tamil Nadu. We all have to fight for our rightful means. If a Dalit is happy the society will be happier. Why hold money back is my fight. The money stashed should be put into the market. Now many Dalits are coming in a big way, whether it be a real estate business or a manufacturing unit.

Is it the need of the hour?

Absolutely, it is the need of the hour, as

there is no job left in government sectors. The population is crossing all possible limits. Where will you absorb them with limited number of seats allotted by the government? Keeping in mind we need to do something so as to better our tomorrow.

How can this bring about a change in society?

We shall be able to rise from our present status, we will have better education and hence better opportunities. There is no harm in labouring. Education of a higher degree removes all prejudices and demarcations.

Can this be instrumental in wiping out the disparity among the man-made sections in society?

There are many such examples those who started from ground zero and now they are selling condos in Pune. Once we move on with good and quality education, we will carve a niche for ourselves. Society is too flexible. Status removes all the walls of caste and colour.

What conclusion or a drawback do you draw that hinders the growth of the community?

Well, I think the major hindrance and obstacle is effective means of communication in the English language. We have higher education but then we do not have this global tool of communication that deters us from going on.

What have you planned to do in this regard?

We have discovered a Goddess of English. She will help us glide through the way. I strongly believe that no degree is above English. Even if you have obtained a PhD or any such degree, that is of no use unless you converse in English. Baba BR Ambedkar went to Columbia; he wrote our constitution, would he have been able to write without English?

How will this Goddess help you learn the language?

It’s God who helps. She will help us as we all in remote villages go and bow to the goddess of English. I have instructed the masses that we talk in this language only, we ask Her to shower us with English nothing else.

Why don’t you send your kids to an English medium school so that they can also learn English and express their views in this language?

There are no schools admitting a poor child from the quota. Even if they give admission, to how many? A big chunk will remain deprived of this and where would they go?

Moreover these schools give nothing in the name of English medium. One can and must work hard towards achieving the desired results. Only with better communication skills can one be a better entrepreneur and architect his own capitalist empire.

 By Syed Wajid Ali

Milind Kamble says: “As DICCI continues growing in strength, so does our own intellectual profile. DICCI is now involved in a mammoth exercise of collecting the total revenue the Dalit entrepreneurs pay to the Indian State. In collaboration with top Dalit intellectuals, DICCI is determined in proving that Dalit entrepreneurs pay more to the State in form of taxes [Income Tax, Sales Tax, Excise Tax, Entertainment Tax, and Luxury Tax] than the Indian State spends on the welfare of Dalits. With DICCI’s wings spreading globally, we are also learning fast. The way Black Capitalism galvanised the African Americans in America, our Dalit Capitalism ought to play a similar role back home.The slogan—Be job givers, instead of job seekers is a new message to the community. Why should the followers of Baba Saheb be seeking jobs elsewhere? Our journey has just begun, and there is long way to go. DICCI’s topmost agendas are to claim our share in the national economy, to create new role models of job givers, and to contribute even more in the nation building.”

In the two decades since India began liberalising its economy, the number of millionaires and billionaires in the country has grown phenomenally. In 2011, India had 55 (dollar) billionaires, six more than the previous year. Two Indians figure among the 10 richest in the world. The emergence of Dalit millionaires is a far more dramatic development than that of millionaires in other communities. The successful entrepreneurs now want to help others in the community. Some are hiring Dalits in their companies. They are also trying to remove hurdles that they encountered when they were starting off as aspiring entrepreneurs. One such hurdle is access to capital. Although there are government institutions such as the National Scheduled Caste Finance and Development Corporation, that extends loans to Dalits, these loans are small and given in installments. Besides, existing funding mechanisms are largely against collateral. This means they are beyond the reach of a large number of aspiring Dalit entrepreneurs, DICCI’s chairman Milind Kamble pointed out. This prompted DICCI to set up a US$100 million venture capital fund for Dalits last year that is scheduled to open up for business in a few months. Several Dalit millionaires including Ashok Khade and Kamble have contributed to this fund.

By Sudhanshu Jain







Abhishek please make this article in the Box and according to the format of pdf. Arrange the boxes in serial no. according to the pdf.

“A Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe plan was proposed 35 years ago in India yet it was not implemented. But now there is a drive to implement that plan. A committee has been constituted for the same. The entire budget for Social Justice and Empowerment was only Rs 2200 crore. I am happy to tell you that now it has been upgraded by 80 per cent. This clearly shows that government is very keen on implementing the programmes they have announced earlier.”

Dr Narendra Jadhav, Member Planning Commission, Govt of India


“Being a Dalit myself I know the fear and hesitation one faces. This is not the place to go into the humiliation faced by the Dalits in India. Dalit entrepreneurs have broken the barrier and I congratulate them. One must jump into the water and learn to swim. No one can now stop the march of history which they are creating. It is a historic achievement to create an institution which starts with the name—Dalit. We keep on creating reservations but this is a very significant event when a Dalit institution enters the open world of industry. To succeed further, Dalit entrepreneurs must think of which are the new emerging industries and get into them.”

Dr Amar Singh (IAS), Executive Director, FCI


“What I have noticed from the influx we are having from various communities, the Dalit community people do have a greater sense of loyalty and they work harder to prove themselves. This attitude has been and it is very commendable that they are saying that we have been neglected for so long, now you are giving us an opportunity, we will do better. Better than others.”

Dr JJ Irani, Director, TATA Sons Limited


“I want to begin by congratulating DICCI. It gives me great pleasure that it is for the first time, where industry & the Dalit Group have collaborated together. At the same time it makes me very sad that it has taken over 60 years for such a thing to happen. Why should we wait for 60 Years? I belong to a community where we have no caste system and I find it difficult that human beings distinguish between each other based on where they were born and not on merits. I hope very soon we are able to get rid of it and we all deal with each other as human beings.”

Mrs Anu Aga, Director, Thermax Ltd., DICCI – Advisor



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