Dalit Inc. ready to show business can beat caste

FP

Two days from now, a 1,000-strong club of Dalit entrepreneurs will showcase their wares over 1 lakh square feet of space in Mumbai's Bandra Kurla complex. The Rs 2-crore infrastructure budget for the three-day event beginning December 16 is not without purpose. It will tell the world that Dalits, given the opportunity, will beat the caste order with capitalism — and will give much more than they seek.

Hobnobbing with the Dalit entrepreneurs at the DICCI Trade Fair 2011 will not be the Prime Minister of India, but the czars of India Inc., Ratan Tata and Adi Godrej.

"Getting the prime minister for a Dalit gathering is not difficult in our society. But for Dalit entrepreneurs, taking a photograph with Tata and Godrej over lunch and tea is an aspiration — and proof that they have arrived," said Chandrabhan Prasad, mentor, Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DICCI), an organisation that was born as SC, ST Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2003.

In a display of its capitalist credentials, DICCI plans to parade at the fair about half a dozen Dalit entrepreneurs who have turned multinationals. "The Dalit community has so many leaders. But we need business leaders now," said Milind Kamble, who along with four or five friends conceived the SC, ST Chamber of Commerce and Industry nearly 10 years ago.

"As Dalits, we need a DICCI more than a FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) to develop leadership. Tata and Godrej are idols for our youth," he said.

Kamble, the son of a school teacher from Latur in Maharashtra, is now managing director of Fortune Construction, a Rs 101-crore company.

What entrepreneurs desperately need is an umbrella to push their corporate agenda, Kamble said. According to him, economic reforms and globalisation actually spurred Dalit entrepreneurship in India.

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