Rags to Riches – Slum Child Bride to Millionaire
Kalpana Saroj was born in India, a child bride at the age of 12, physically abused by her husband’s family, attempted suicide and in spite of it all survived to build a growing empire.
Dalits or ‘untouchables’ fall outside of the Indian caste system and are considered the lowest rank of Indian society. They are discriminated on all levels including access to education and medical facilities due to their low status. Born in poverty and following Dalit’s custom, Kalpana was betrothed to a man 10 years her senior. Kalpana’s father had liberal views and encouraged her to pursue her education, however, the commanding voice of the community drowned out his wishes. Kalpana therefore, moved to Mumbai to live with her husband and her in-laws.
A Second Chance at Life
Married life was a living hell, Kalpana was expected to do all the cooking and cleaning for a household of 10. She was physically and emotionally abused by her husband’s family who constantly found fault with everything she did. Kalpana’s father visited her 6 months later and was horrified to find his daughter emaciated. Concerned for his daughter’s well-being, he took her back home. Leaving a husband is widely frowned upon in Indian culture and Kalpana’s community ostracized her for the shame she had brought to the family. Unable to endure the constant humiliation and cruelty inflicted by her community, Kalpana chose to end her life by drinking poison. Fortunately, she was interrupted by an aunt and Kalpana lived to have a second chance at life. Gone were the emotions of weakness, self-pity and instead an empowered young lady who was determined life was to be different.
“I decided to live my life and do something big and then die.” Kalpana Saroj
At the age of 16 Kalpana moved back to Mumbai to live with relatives, where she learned tailoring to generate an income. After Kalpana’s father lost his job, her family moved in with her. Crammed in one small room, money was tight but her family were all together. Her sister fell ill and Kalpana tried desperately to acquire the money for her sister’s lifesaving treatment but sadly was unable to do so. This was a defining moment in Kalpana’s entrepreneurial journey.
“I was highly disappointed and realized that money did matter in life and that I needed to make more.” Kalpana Saroj
Entrepreneurial Shift Moving Forwards
Kalpana secured a business loan and opened up a furniture business, fine tuning her tailoring skills along the way. She mastered the art of negotiation, where to source raw materials and recognized market trends, tirelessly working 16 hours a day, she later remarried and had 2 children. Her entrepreneurial determination did not go unnoticed and she was asked to manage a metal engineering company, Kamani Tubes. The company was heavily in debt, overcoming legal battles and liability challenges were just the initial hurdles. Kalpana was instructed to pay off the bank loans in seven years, she accomplished it in one, back pay the workers’ wages in three years, she achieved it in three months. She was driven to provide justice to the workers who would lose everything if the company went under. Kalpana successfully restructured the company and returned a profit.
“Hard work is not overrated; it is fail proof. What you want, whatever it is, you shall get if you apply yourself wholeheartedly and work towards it with a single minded vision.” Kalpana Saroj
The story of Kalpana Saroj is another excellent example of where your circumstances do not need to define you. Despite her initial challenges, Kalpana dictated her own destiny, she made better choices and eventually this all paid off to become one exceptionally successful entrepreneur.