Nepal | June 04, 2020

Journey of grit and determination

Sujan Dhungana
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Kathmandu, September 16

The irony of talking about her life while visiting Nepal is not lost on Kalpana Saroj, who survived a murder attempt from a contract killer who was going to flee to the Himalayan nation after finishing her off.

“I think it is a divine coincidence that today I am here in Nepal and speaking about it. Had I been killed, the murderer would have come to Nepal,” said Saroj, chairperson of Kamani Tubes Ltd.

Interview with Kalpana Saroj in Kathmandu on Sudnay. Photo: Balkrishna Thapa Chhetri/THT

An exemplary example of someone who has braved all odds to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in India, Saroj is a recipient of the Padma Shree award from the Indian government in 2013.

Born in 1958 to a lower-middle-class family, Saroj lived in Maharashtra’s Akola district where her father was a police constable. At the tender age of 12, when she was studying in seventh grade, she was married off to a poor Indian family, which was completely driven by a patriarchal mindset that a daughter-in-law is to be treated like a domestic help.

As Saroj’s father came to know about the ill-treatments being meted out on his daughter, he decided to bring her back home and implored her to continue with her studies.

However, unable to cope with the societal pressure and stigma associated with women who leave their husbands, she decided to commit suicide in 1980 and consumed three bottles of poison. But as fate would have it, Saroj was saved in the nick of time by her father.

As per Saroj, that was the turning point in her life.“I had been given a second life and I now wanted to make the most of it.”

But in the course of time another tragedy struck Saroj’s family when her younger sister succumbed to a curable illness as they could not afford her treatment.
“The importance of money dawned on me that fateful day and I resolved to do something about it.”

After running from pillar to post, Saroj was finally able to avail a loan of Rs 50,000 from a bank in Mumbai under a government scheme to encourage youths towards business. She started a boutique and a small furniture business later. She also arranged a platform where she made other youths aware about the scheme and helped them acquire it. This slowly made Saroj popular among the youths, who started visiting her with their problems.

But her fame and wealth drew scorn from some people, especially because she is a woman and that too from a Dalit family. “In the late 90s, a group hired a contract killer to get rid of me for Rs 500,000,” she reminisces.

But the murder attempt failed and Saroj not only continued with her business but also explored new ventures.

Her greatest achievement today is her ability to turn around Kamani Tubes in India that was straddled with INR 1.16 billion debt into a profit-generating enterprise.
The company had been shut for many years when in 1987 the court ordered the workers to run the company but they failed to do so. One day, a group of workers
approached Saroj to take over the company. While initially hesitant, she finally decided to give it a shot after much deliberation.

“The financial condition of the workers in the company, 93 of whom had already died due to starvation and lack of medicines and treatment — pushed me to step up to the plate,” she states.

Still, Saroj is also grateful to the lenders of Kamani Tubes who accepted her proposal to reduce the penalties added to the company’s principal liability amount. “Else it would not have been viable.” She took over in 2009 and by 2011 was able to clear the principal loan amount worth INR 600 million and record a profit of INR 45 million. “The most satisfying moment was when the banks gave me a 25 per cent discount on the principal amount for fulfilling my commitment.”

Saroj, who today runs a company worth INR 2.5 billion, says that marginalised people, especially women, should remove the fear factor from their mind if they want to become successful.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger — which is quite literally what happened in my case,” said Saroj, laughing.

A version of this article appears in print on September 17, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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