Growing up in the 1990s in small town Rajasthan, TR Meghwal, son of a Dalit farmer, was not allowed to touch the ‘lota’ from which upper caste boys drank water. When he was thirsty, upper caste students would pour water into his cupped palms. Ten years down the line, Meghwal has joined hands with a Brahmin from Rajasthan, Rupraj Purohit, to start a multi-crore construction company.
Meghwal was one of 50-odd Dalit entrepreneurs from across India who attended the inauguration of the Delhi chapter of DAICCI (Dalit India Chamber of Commerce and Industry).
Dressed in suits and ties – the trademark of Dalit messiah Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar – their message was loud and clear. They were celebrating the arrival of the Dalit capitalist. A couple of decades ago, the term itself could well be considered an oxymoron for a community synonymous with poverty.
The event, a cocktail-cum-dinner party at India International Centre on Saturday evening, was not simply a celebration of Dalit wealth but a recognition of the struggles the community has been through. The function heralded the arrival of a new social order. Take for instance Sharvan Singh, son of a labourer in an Agra shoe factory, who now heads his own shoe business. He acknowledges the fact that doing business as a Dalit is no easy task. For starters, he points out that despite a government policy on no-guarantee loans for Dalits, most banks insist on collateral.
The gathering included the likes of Shishupal Singh, a Delhi-based garment exporter with clients in France, Spain and Italy, as well as Mumbai’s Dalit czarina Kalpana Saroj, who runs Kamani Tubes Limited.
”By showcasing Dalit entrepreneurship, we are sending out a message to society that, despite all odds, Dalits can succeed,” said Chandra Bhan Prasad, Dalit activtist and author.
DICCI started its Mumbai chapter earlier this year. The Delhi chapter is the fifth of its kind across the country. ”In another six months, we hope to have 25 chapters across India,” said DICCI chairman Milind Kamble, who founded the organisation in Pune in 2005. [TOI]