Meet Rajiv Kain, 40, a Dalit and an entrepreneur. Mr Kain was born in village Ghondly, hardly 15 km from Parliament. Kain’s father ran a scooter repairing workshop in the once famous Jheel scooter market in east Delhi. The distance between Kain’s home and the scooter repairing workshop only three km. Right from his early school days, the child Kain would frequent his father’s workshop very often.
To the young boy, the scooter workshop appeared far more interesting than the school building, the tools looked prettier than alphabets. When he was in Class 9, Kain could de-assemble and re-assemble scooter engines at ease. But then the time came for him to sit for his final Plus Two examination, and Kain didn’t pass. At the age of 18 years, the young man became a master mechanic.
When scooters began to turn into relics in the new economy, Kain shifted gears and began to manufactures ceiling fans, table fans, as well as solar-powered fans. He also manufactured battery propelled table fans with lights that could light up a room. In other words, without electricity, one can run table fan with lamp quality light.
As months and years passed, Kain’s business grew. He bought a flat in a NOIDA apartment, married, and has two children who attend an English medium school. Kain now drives a mid-segment car, participates in community events, and is seen as an achiever.
Although a hero within his community, Kain is unlikely to join India’s billionaires club, Like him, thousands of Dalit entrepreneurs are fated to disappear into the multi-millionaire jungle, almost all self-made first timers, their businesses stranded between Rs one crore and Rs 20 crore. With exceptions, most Dalit businesses are unlikely to break the Billionaire Glass Ceiling.
Consider the reasons that halt the march of Dalit entrepreneurs:
A Central government organization is buying four lakh low watt ceiling fans. One of the pre-qualifying criterions is that the companies bidding for the contract should have a turnover of not less than Rs 31 crore. Kain can’t even enter the tendering process. Even if the turnover condition is scrapped and the contract is reduced to 100,000 ceiling fans Kain wouldn’t be able to make the tender because that would require an investment of about Rs 8 crores.
The tender has other complications. It asks bidders for proof of experience of manufacturing a minimum of 75,000 low watt ceiling fans. Given the fact that the low-Watt ceiling fan is relatively new energy saving stuff and only big players have experience in producing that, Mr Kain has already been eliminated from the bidding process, which means he cannot participate in the lucrative tender.
One may argue that the tendering process doesn’t discriminate between Dalits and non-Dalits. But here’s the catch. The tender document allows bidders to accommodate a partner. But Kain hasn’t been able to find one because he is a Dalit. He believes that non-Dalits have it far easier.
Perhaps, the problem is structurally flawed, in that it assists large corporates in bidding for government contracts and Dalits are still new to this game. India’s economic reforms didn’t accompany reforms in Tender & Banking systems, and that not only dispirited competitiveness, but also scripted economic exclusions. It is easy to see how Kain’s march to Dalal Street gets subverted.