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From ‘garibi hatao’ to ‘amiri badhao’: Showcasing a new set of Dalit icons

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Dalit Enterprise magazine profiles 15 successful entrepreneurs from the community, with an aim to promote business as a career option among Dalit youth.

Abandoned by her father, suffering the double disadvantage of being a Dalit and a woman, now running a successful garment design company in a Haryana village with a turnover above Rs 1 crore a month. Meet Sandhya Chokerwal.

A child labourer from a landless Dalit family in Uttar Pradesh, now the ‘seth’ of the fruit wholesale mandi at Azadpur, Delhi. Meet Sita Ram Saga.

A Dalit entrepreneur who turned his father’s leather shoe-making business into a Rs 20 crore per year empire – all before the age of 41. Meet Shiv Narayan.

Flipping through the pages of the first edition of ‘Dalit Enterprise’ magazine, one comes across many such inspiring stories. Fifteen, to be precise.

Overcoming the odds placed on them by their positions of disadvantage on India’s social totem pole, these 15 entrepreneurs have turned into icons for India’s vast Dalit community.

Stories of grit

Chokerwal’s story is gut-wrenching at times, and truly inspirational at others. Having been abandoned by her father, she was raised by her uncles. In a state like Haryana, with its deeply casteist and patriarchal society, it was a double challenge to be a Dalit and a woman who dared to dream.

Today, her village in Palwal district is home to a garment designing business that’s creating wealth for Chokerwal and her employees. She is now able to send one of her sons to an English medium private school, and looks forward to growing her business beyond its present turnover of Rs 1 crore per month.

Sita Ram Saga’s story is another highlight. Born to illiterate and landless parents in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, he dropped out of school in the eighth standard, confronted with abject poverty. At 13, he was sent to work in the fields, performing tasks like clearing weed from paddy and wheat crops, which required a smaller pair of hands.

It was in these fields that he learnt of the wholesale fruit market at Azadpur, where he emigrated and worked a daily wager, and then an accountant for a large firm for 15 years. After learning the tricks of the trade, Saga eventually quit his job to start his own company that supplied the best quality fruits at the lowest prices.

Now the ‘Seth’ of the mandi, Saga aspires to open a multi-speciality hospital in the future. His youngest son is completing his Bachelor’s degree in medicine, while the other two are involved in the family business.

A similar theme runs through the other profiles – social adversity, innovative ideas, entrepreneurial bent of mind, and finally, success. Towards the end of some of the pieces in the magazine, there are also small pieces about where the entrepreneurs’ children are studying, and their dreams for the future, to showcase the mindset of the individuals and their next generation after achieving this success.

Idea behind the magazine

The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Chandra Bhan Prasad, has been struggling for nearly two decades to see more Dalit entrepreneurs list their companies in the stock markets, and to make entrepreneurship fashionable among Dalits.

The first Dalit business magazine in the country has drawn its inspiration from Black Enterprise, which is regarded as America’s premiere business magazine for the African-American community and the voice of their businesses.

According to Prasad, these stories should help change Dalits’ aspirational mantra from ‘garibi hatao’ (remove poverty) to ‘amiri badhao’ (increase wealth).

“Our aim is to create 100 Dalit billionaires. We want to show Dalit youth that a new career option is open to them; that our motto has changed form garibi hatao to amiri badhao,” he said.

“The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has assured us that all its member companies will receive a digital copy of the magazine, and will encourage big corporate houses to subscribe to the magazine, so that India Inc. comes to know about the kind of businesses Dalits are running,” he said.

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