“I was born in a Dalit family, in a village in Akola. When I was 12, everyone pushed my dad to get me married to a man, 10 years my senior, who lived in Mumbai. My dad didn’t want to, but because of societal pressure, I was married off.
I came here and learned that his family lived in one room in a slum and he didn’t even have a job. I was treated horribly – if there was extra salt in the food I cooked or any mistakes I made, I was beaten up by my in-laws… It was my personal hell.
After 6 months, my father visited me – he couldn’t even recognize me. I was in ragged clothes and I’d lost my smile. He fought with my in-laws and took me home. Telling me to forget about it like a bad dream.
But people started blaming me. I even tried to commit suicide – and they still said that I was giving up because I HAD done something wrong, not the other way around. It was then that I realised that if I was going to be blamed in any case, I’d rather live.
With this new leaf turned, I returned to Mumbai and worked as a tailor. That was the first time I saw what Rs. 100 looked like. I rented a room in Kalyan with my savings and called my family here. We were managing fine – but when we couldn’t afford to save my sister’s life, I realised that I needed to make more money for my family.
So I took a government loan and started my own furniture business. It was doing well and we began living a better life.
But there were so many people out there struggling, just like I used to. So I started an NGO to help them get loans. Sometimes, I helped them out of my own pocket and slowly built a good reputation for my social work.
Which is why the workers of Kamani Tubes asked me to help save their company. It was tied up in 140 litigation cases, with a debt of 116 crores. Everyone told me that it was suicide – but 500+ families were starving! So I chose to help, wanting nothing but justice for them in return. I spoke to the finance minister and he got the debt reduced. I gathered a team and shifted factories. Everything I tried was new – but there was no fear left in me.
In 2006, I became the chairman. We were told to pay off the bank loans within 7 years. We did it within 1 and we even managed to pay the workers. Slowly and surely, things changed and today, the turnover is more than we could dream of, I was even awarded the Padma Shri in 2013 for my work.
I’ve had an unbelievable journey, from a Dalit Child-Bride to an owner of a multi-million dollar company. It’s been tough – but I’ve made sure to never let the fear of challenges overpower me. I took me a long time to learn that, but now that I have, I can’t choose to face life without having full faith in myself.”
Kalpana Saroj’s story is quite an eye-opener for all those who believe that women are weak and helpless.