When Ratibhai Makwana, 70, a Dalit, launched his plastic renewal plant in Baroda 31 years ago, rival firms boycotted the launch because of a fear of losing out on business deals.
Today, Makwana's Gujarat Pickers Industries Limited, based in Ahmedabad, has a Rs300-crore turnover and a sugar factory in Uganda.
On Saturday, Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata, paid a visit to the three-day Trade Fair organised by Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI). Seeking a lease of life in the spirit of entrepreneurship, the fair has stalls put up by 200 Dalit-owned companies.
Tata made a brief address to the gathered group of entrepreneurs: "I salute you for being entrepreneurs and contributing to Indian industry."
"The Tata Group has aligned with Dalit enterprises since 1945. Ratan Tata addressing the entrepreneurs pushes their morale and encourages more Dalit youth to set foot in the business sector," said Milind Kamble, president of DICCI.
"The factories that are run in India have a large number of workers from the Scheduled Caste, but we want recognition too," said Shishupal Singh, 46, CEO, Sangam Exports in 2004 and exports garments to firms in Russia, Italy and France.
"The idea behind DICCI is to send a message to society that Dalits are not only seekers of government protection through reservation, grants and scholarships, but they can also contribute to the economic growth with their entrepreneurial skills." said Chandrabhan Prasad, Dalit scholar.
When asked about the purpose behind a separate, parallel body for Dalit industrialists, Prasad said caste is a reality. "But when Dalits can be seen at par in every sector, their empowerment would be complete. When that stage is achieved, DICCI can merge with FICCI," said Prasad.