One of the dreams of Dr Ambedkar was that Dalits should not only queue up for getting jobs but become job-providers. Today, that dream seems to be turning into a reality. Maharashtra is scripting a new saga of Dalit entrepreneurship. All over the country, the number of Dalit entrepreneurs is rising. Dalit Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) has been established to bring Dalit entrepreneurs on one platform. Preparations are underway to establish chapters of DICCI all over the country. Ashok Chaudhary talked to DICCI chairman Padmashree Milind Kamble. Excerpts.
What led to the establishment of DICCI?
Most of the business chambers operating in the country are quite old. Almost all their members are experts in business and trading. But the Dalits in business are first-generation entrepreneurs. In this context, a need was felt for an organization, the members of which are facing the same kind of problems. It was with this objective that DICCI was established on 14 April 2005 and today it has carved out a distinct identity for itself.
How will the entrepreneurs at places where DICCI doesn’t have a presence, get in touch with you?
You are right. This is a problem. But as I told you earlier, we have just made a beginning. We are contacting the businessmen in all parts of the country and the process of establishment of branches of DICCI will begin soon. Once branches are in place, the membership would be increased. The objective of DICCI is to bring all Dalit businessmen on one platform and give them an opportunity to expand their businesses. We will provide solutions to all business problems of our members.
Any particular achievement of the Chamber?
The first important thing is that we have identified the Dalit businessmen all over the country and they are gradually associating themselves with this organization. Secondly, within and outside the country, just like FICCI and CII, we have also started getting recognition. A proof of this is that BSE has offered to provide some special facilities to our members in the separate trading platform it has decided to launch for MSMEs. Most of our members run small and medium enterprises and they are going to play an important role in the Indian economy in the days to come.
Reservation for Dalits in the private sector is a long-pending demand. What will be DICCI’s role in it?
The issue of reservations is an old one. It has been raised from time to time by politicians of Dalit as well as other communities. Many private companies have introduced reservation also. But raising political issues is not the objective of DICCI. Our objective is to unite Dalit entrepreneurs and help them grow and expand. The issue of reservation is a political one. I believe that it is best left to the politicians. Businesspersons have nothing to do with it.
What facilities are provided to the entrepreneurs who join DICCI?
Any Dalit entrepreneur with an annual turnover of at least Rs 10 lakhs can become a member of DICCI. The chamber provides to its members all necessary info and inputs for expanding their businesses. Financial management services, legal consultancy, advice on bettering quality through improved training, marketing tips, etc., are given. Also, trade fairs and seminars are held to popularize their products.
Will FDI in retail benefit Dalits or hurt them?
The present Indian economy is like the Gurukul system, where Dalits have no place. In mandis, the farmers sell their crops to wholesalers through middlemen. Foreign retail chains will push the middlemen out. Today, nothing moves in mandis without the consent of the middlemen. Every vegetable, every fruit, every food grain reaches the common man through the middlemen. The structure and rules of mandis are such that the farmers are compelled to sell their produce to the middlemen, who, then sell it to the wholesalers and make a tidy pile for themselves. The middlemen come from the upper castes. The upper-caste middlemen control the mandis all over the country. Though in Delhi, some Dalits are successful exporters, transporters and contractors there is not a single Dalit middleman in mandis. It is this mandi system that is fearful of foreign retailers. Liberalization has benefited the Dalits and this is proved by the fact that all the Dalit entrepreneurs have emerged only after 1991. They are making machines, they are digging tunnels but what is surprising is that there is no Dalit in the traditional businesses. Thus, Dalits could not grow in the traditional, localized businesses. And mandi is one such business. That is why I say that if MNC retail chains come to India, it will open up new opportunities for the Dalit businessmen. In the traditional economy, the businesspersons are also lenders and it is they who finance new businesses. That is why new entrepreneurs cannot enter the field. Foreign retailers will open new doors of pportunities and that will benefit Dalits.
What help does the chamber get from the government and the industrialists?
When, in 2010, we organized DICCI trade fair, all big industrial leaders like Ratan Tata, Adi Godrej and Mukesh Ambani visited it. From the government side, Sushil Kumar Chandra and other top leaders came. They lavishly praised our initiative. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, vice chairman of the Planning Commission had said that besides the government, the industrialists should also help DICCI.
Published in the May 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine