It was an uneventful day in India, but a day to be much remembered in the life of Kalpana Saroj, India’s “Slumdog Millionaire” when her father came to her rescue.
Saroj is a victim of a child bride, married off at the tender age of twelve and eventually became a victim of abuse.
She was born in a little village called Roperkheda in Maharashtra, 1958, to a lower-middle-class Buddhist family. Saroj’s father was a police constable in another village called Repatkhed in Akola. She lived with her parents and four siblings, which consist of two brothers and two sisters.
Life was meaningful to the beautiful young girl until she was given to marriage after completing class seven. Having being married off, she moved to Mumbai to live in Thane’s Ulhasnagar slum, with her husband’s family who occupied a 10×5 ft room with 12 to 15 people living under the same roof.
Not only was she subjected to living in a slum, after six months of being married into the family she began to suffer constant physical abuse from her husband and his family. Saroj was beaten by her husband on so many occasions and for very trivial reasons like not putting enough salt in his food. She was shut out from associating with people and was also restricted from maintaining any contact with her family.
One day, Saroj’s father decided to pay his daughter and in-laws a surprise visit. However, instead of surprising them, he turned out to be the surprised one when he came face-to-face with his little daughter and failed to recognise her. She had become very pale and unrecognisable. Without wasting much time, he took his daughter and headed home.
That was a day that marked the beginning of a new dawn for Saroj but not the end to her struggles.
After moving back home, she was ostracized by the village people, who began to taunt her and her family about her return. She faced worse mockery and bully in school from friends and other students living in the same community. Tired of being mocked and ostracized, she decided to take her life by consuming 3 bottles of rat poison. She was rushed to the government hospital, and her life was saved.
Saroj recovered and swore to make meaning out of her life. She begged her family to allow her to move to Mumbai in 1972, convincing them that Mumbai was filled with opportunities of earning. She moved to Mumbai and settled there with her uncle. She started out, working in a garment factory and after some months, she began stitching on the side which brought an added income of Rs 100. Within two years she had saved up a reasonable amount of money that could afford a small house in Kalyan East and she moved her family to Mumbai.
However, a sad situation befell the family. That year, they lost her seventeen years old sister due to lack of medical care. The pain and agony of the dead prompted Saroj to engage further in her pursuit.
In 1975, under the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Scheme – a government scheme for scheduled caste people, Saroj received a loan of Rs 50,000 and started a tailoring business in Kalyan alongside a re-sales furniture venture. The business grew successfully and she handed the furniture business to her father while her younger sister took over the tailoring business.
In 1978, Saroj started an association called Sushikshit Berozgar Yuvak Sanghatana, to help the unemployed. Around 3,000 people who joined her association were helped with placements.
In 1980, Saroj remarried Samir Saroj and they had two children a boy and a girl, but Samir died in 1989 and she inherited her husband’s steel cupboard manufacturing business.
She continued to thrive successfully in business and a higher opportunity came to her in what looked like a blessing in disguise. In 1995, a man brought Saroj an offer to buy his land at a very cheap price claiming to be in urgent need of Rs 2.5 lakh, but she offered him only Rs 1 lakh and he took it. After purchasing the land, she realised that it was under litigation and that was why he had sold it so cheap. With no knowledge about land deals, she was fortunate to meet the district collector who helped her to sort out the court issues and in two years she got the permission to sell the land.
She gave the land to a builder who built on it at his own cost and she took 35 per cent of the sale of the finished building and gave the builder 65 per cent. This opened her eye to the benefits in real estate and she delved into it.
Saroj continued to prosper in real estate business and she turned out to be a land litigation expert. This new line of business, of course, came within its own challenges, including death threats from competitors. But Saroj never bulged.
After a period of time, the property business had a turnover of Rs 4 crore and she moved into sugar production after investing in a sugarcane factory.
Her fame soon spread across and into the ears of the owner of Kamani Tubes, a manufacturing company that supplies copper tubes, rods, LED lights and more, located in Kurla. Over the years, Kamani Tubes had suffered many losses and litigations. The company had been shut for many years when, in 1987, the courts ordered the workers to run the company, but they had failed to do so successfully.
In 1999, the workers of the company approached Saroj asking her to take over the company and fix the mess. Faced with a company with 3,500 bosses, huge loan and 140 cases of litigation and two unions, Saroj took up Kamani Tubes and began work immediately. It was not an easy task all through the process of rebranding the company. Saroj formed a 10-member team, which included marketing people, finance people, bank directors, lawyers, and government consultants. She met with the then state finance minister and all those who had given loans to Kamani. Along the line, the banks agreed to remove the penalties, interest, and also 24 per cent from the principal amount to help her revive the company. After some time, the loans were cleared which also involved Saroj selling one of her properties in Kalyan.
She took over as Chairperson of the company and in 2009 Kamani Tubes came out of SICA (Sick Industrial Companies Act), and in 2010 the company was restarted and the factory moved to another location. There was an investment of about Rs 5 crore into the company by 2011, a profit of Rs 3 crore was achieved. Kamani Tubes is now a profitable company, with a profit of Rs 5 crore every year.
Saroj continued to venture into other businesses including film production.
With over six hundred employees Saroj currently controls six companies; Kamani Tubes Limited, Kamani Steel Re-Rolling Mills Pvt Ltd, Saikrupa Sugar Factory Pvt Ltd, Kalpana Builders & Developers, Kalpana Saroj & Associations, and the KS Creations Film Production.
Saroj has been recognised on various platforms for her hard work and impact on the people, society and economy. One of such recognitions includes; the Padma Shri award for Trade and Industry in 2013.
She is happily married to Shubhkaran and she currently lives with her family in Mumbai.
Her story clearly explains the wise saying of Winston Churchill that: “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”
By Miracle Nwankwo