Child marriage is a curse that puts girls into horrible situations and is life-threatening for many. There are only very few lucky ones who get a second chance at life. Kalpana Saroj, currently a leading entrepreneur is one such exception who built a life after an ill-fated child marriage. We often talk about how hard work is the key to success; well Kalpana’s life is living proof of this thought of line. Kalpana was born in 1958 in the Akola district of Maharashtra.
After getting married off at a mere 11 years of age, Kalpana was in for a rude awakening. Her in-laws harassed her and prevented her from maintaining a relationship with her family back home. For most girls, the situation keeps on deteriorating. But things took a turn for Kalpana, though it wasn’t easy.
One day when her father went to visit her, he was in shock looking at her state which led him to take his daughter back. While this meant freedom from her in-laws, things were far from clear. She and her family soon became the subjects of taunts from all of her villagers. Things were so bad that it drove Kalpana to attempt suicide. But when she was saved, she took it as a second chance given by life.
She gathered courage and decided to do something with herself. Kalpana Saroj moved to Mumbai in 1972 and began living with family friends in Dadar. She found employment at a garment factory earning Rs 60 per month and earned another Rs 100 from stitching on the side. This was the first time Kalpana ever saw a 100 rupee note. From thereon, she seized every opportunity that came her way and never let up. She soon had enough to rent a house in the city and move her family in with her.
Kalpana suffered another setback when she lost her sister at 17, which pushed her to dream bigger. In 1975, she received a loan of Rs 50000 under Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Scheme and opened her own boutique. She also began furniture reselling business on the side.
Through all the setbacks and hardships, she never gave up and knew the importance of giving back. When business was good, she set up an association of her own to help the unemployed. Soon her family joined in and helped her in the business. But it was her employment drive that garnered her most recognition.
Two decades later, in 1995, Kalpana had her first run-in with land litigation. She bought land off a desperate man who duped and sold her land that was under litigation. But she didn’t give up and after two years of work, the land was in the clear. She then brought in a builder to build on the land at his cost. They split the profits for the finished property with Kalpana getting 35% of it. Thereafter she entered the real estate business and by 1998 became a litigation expert.
Soon her property business began giving a turnover of Rs 4 crore and she also invested in a sugarcane factory. Her expertise in land litigation then brought her to Kamani Tubes, a crumbling company. With a lot of hard work and dedication, Kalpana was able to revive the company which is still under her leadership today. Here is what Kalpana Saroj said about the experience:
“Here was a company with 3,500 bosses! Banks gave them loan but they couldn’t make any money from 1987 to 1998, plus the company had a loan of Rs 116 crore, 140 cases of litigation and two unions… So it was a total mess, but I was here to sort it out. First we cleared the loans. I had to sell one of my properties in Kalyan, but in 2009 Kamani Tubes came out of SICA (Sick Industrial Companies Act), and in 2010 we restarted the company. We shifted the factory later to Wada, and invested about Rs 5 crore. Within the year, in 2011, we had made Rs 3 crore profit!”
Kalpana soon diversified into various business and is currently at the helm of six companies. These are- Kamini Steel Re-Rolling Mills Pvt. Ltd., Kamini Tubes, Kalpana Saroj & Associates, Kalpana Builders & Developers, Saikrupa Sugar Factory, and KS Creations Film Production. Her work over the years, garnered Kalpana a Padma Shri (2013) for Trade and Industry. GOI also appointed her as a board member for the Bhartiya Mahila Bank.
The current combined turnover of all her businesses is about Rs 2000 crore a year. And even though she is 60, she shows no signs of slowing down. From a Dalit child bride to a successful entrepreneur, Kalpana Saroj is the epitome of a strong female role model. Don’t you think so?