Milind Khandekar’s book “Dalit Millionaires” has been recently translated from Hindi to English. More than reservation in education and employment, it is the free market that has empowered them, he says

The title of this book, Dalit Millionaires — 15 Inspiring Stories, is sufficient to spawn curiosity in you. The Dalit community finds itself in news either for being persecuted due to social biases still prevalent, or being part of some government dole scheme — more to keep them as vote banks, less to empower them in the true sense. So who are these ‘millionaires’ and Dalit too?

The book’s author, Delhi-based journalist Milind Khandekar, has clubbed as many as 15 such millionaires from the community, bringing to the readers not just their struggle and success but the extra mile that they had to tread for being a Dalit. Dalit Millionaires (Portfolio Penguin), recently translated from Hindi into English by Vandana R. Singh and Renu Talwar, therefore, is a vital documentation of lives less ordinary. Interestingly, Khandekar has underlined in the book that more than reservation in education and employment, it is the free market that has enabled them to write their success stories.

Excerpts from an interview:

How was the idea born?

Unlike in English, few books have been written in the non-fiction genre in Hindi. I was planning to write a book in Hindi on how the economy has changed the life of middle-class Indians post 1991 but my editor at Penguin, Renu Agal, offered the idea of Dalit Millionaires to me. I realised their stories are also about a changing India. It breaks wrong notions our society with the so-called upper caste biases has towards the community, that they are mere beneficiaries of government dole. The reporter in me felt this story shouldn’t go unreported.

Whose story impressed you the most?

For me, each story has something inspiring but Kalpana Saroj and Savitaben Kolsawala had an added challenge. It was being a woman besides being a Dalit. Being women, they didn’t get much formal education. They overcame all that to build their own business empires. Kalpana ji started as a daily wage earner stitching clothes. She now owns Kamani Tubes in Mumbai. Savitaben sold coal in a hand cart on the streets of Ahmedabad to support her family. She went on to become one of the biggest coal traders in Gujarat. Her company now makes ceramic tiles.

How did you zero in on these names? How was their response when you first shared with them the idea of the book?

I took help from Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, newspaper reports and my journalist colleagues in various regions to arrive at the list. But I won’t call this a complete list as people like Rajesh Saraiya and Milind Kamble couldn’t be part of it. Rajesh owns a steel company with global footprints in the U.K. and Russia. Milind is the man behind Dalit Chambers.

It was difficult to get them talk about their business initially. They all have business worth crores but most keep a low profile. My understanding is that they still fear backlash from business rivals or government officials for being a Dalit. After few reassuring phone calls, everyone was kind enough to share their stories though.

One of the interviewees in the book, said, “People forget that reservation only helps with admission, not results.” What were their experiences with reservation? Did any benefit from it?

This particular line was used by Harsh Bhaskar of Kota Tutorials. He studied in IIT, Roorkie. There are only 3-4 people among these millionaires who benefited from education or job reservation. But as I have pointed out in the book that in a free market, there is no reservation and they have been successful despite social biases.

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