‘Why only Tatas, why not give sops to dalit businessman?’

Hari Kishan Pippal, Congress candidate from Agra Cantt, criticises Maya's ‘misrule’

trithesh

Trithesh Nandan | January 24, 2012




At a time when there are few dalit entrepreneurs, Hari Kishan Pippal has carved a niche in Agra. His journey from rags to riches is a story of discrimination, struggle, caste taunts and hardship. His companions were some public sector banks, which gave him loans to run the business. There was hardly any support from the government at a time when big businessmen like Tatas gets sops to set up factories, he says. In an interview with Trithesh Nandan in city of the Taj Mahal, Pippal says that business is not run by money but with confidence and once will.

His company’s turnover is around Rs 90 crore and he is an active member of the Pune-based Dalit Chambers of Commerce. The 60-year-old businessman, who is contesting the assembly elections from Agra Cantt, a reserved constituency seat, on the Congress ticket, is confident of his victory. He laments the five-year ‘misrule’ of Mayawati during which, Pippal says, the lower castes have not benefitted from "dalit ki beti".

Edited excerpts from the interview.

Tell us about your journey so far.

I was not born with a silver spoon. My father had a small shoe factory which was shut down after he suffered from paralysis. Elder brothers did not take much interest in the factory. I was then studying in class 10. I wanted to continue my studies but we did not have the means. A few of my friends helped me. I also pulled rickshaw at night to earn and support my family.

I got married when I was in class 12th. I protested but later gave in to the family pressure. I gave up my studies and started working with my father-in-law in his small shop. I took a loan of Rs 15,000 from the bank to expand the business. When I got the loan, my family members began asking me for money. I had no option but to leave my family. I then started living in a rented accommodation. With time, my business grew several folds. I got more loans and became a trusted customer of bank. They also increased my loan amount.

For the first time at the age of 25, I went to foreign shores for some export orders. Despite coming from a Jatav community, I held my head high and so were my goals. My wife is an un-educated woman but an efficiently home maker. Today, my four sons are grown up, educated and help me in the business.

Was it easy to take loan from banks. Did you face any sort of discrimination because you come from a dalit community?

For my first loan of Rs 15,000 in 1980, I went to bank for countless times. The bank rules were strict. Taking a loan from the bank was not easy in those days as I did not have any collateral to show against loan at that point of time. However, the bank manager did not doubt my sincerity and sanctioned me the loan. The bank manager is a retired man now but I still regard him. That was the beginning. I gradually became a valued customer because I repaid loan amounts in time. They increased my loans from Rs 15,000 to Rs 5,00,000 within a couple of years. My business grew with this money. We exported to Bulgaria, Russia and Germany. Thomas Bata of Bata Company has visited my factory thrice.

Can you tell us the bank that gave you the first loan?
It was the Punjab National Bank. Other public sector banks also helped me. In Agra, banks trust me. Recently, at a function of Bank of Baroda, I was invited as the chief guest and I sat along with the managing director. Now, I don’t even have to go the bank. Bank officials now come to me to get documents signed.

How does it feel to be called a dalit poster boy?

I am proud of my past. There should be set goals in your life, if you want to succeed. You can’t do business just with money. You need vision and will power. Now my sons have taken care of my business. I named my company as People's Export as it sounds my surname. My group has been diversified into restaurant, banquet halls, hospital, and dealership of Honda scooter dealership. Employees from all communities work in my company. I have Brahmin doctors in my heritage hospital. Initially, some doctors did not join my hospital but now they cooperate. I don’t discriminate anyone and treat them as my children. They also see me as a guardian.

So did you face discrimination?

Yes, I am from a dalit family and I have faced discrimination but some of my upper caste friends supported me. I vividly remember that when I started my export shoe business, I faced discrimination at the hands of the state trading corporation. One day when I entered the office one of the officials yelled, “You bloody people, get out from here.”

The other one is very recent. My heritage hospital is listed as empanelled hospital for the northern central railway. Some upper caste officers of the railways want to remove my hospital from the list. They tried very hard but couldn’t succeed. The hospital has created a niche in the city. In government offices, the officials still have reservations because of one’s caste.

How do dalit businessmen face discrimination?

If Tatas want to invest and have to open a factory in some interior area, they get land, tax concessions and bank loans at reduced rate of interest. It is irony that we (dalit businessman) never get such concession. I give employment to 5,000 people and pay full rate of interest to banks, electricity charges and enjoy no sops. When you earn money, you should pay tax to the government. We have to pay tax. However, I am not targeting anybody but the system. I am targeting schemes of the Reserve Bank of India.

You are also an active member of the Dalit Chambers of Commerce? Has this helped the dalit businessmen consolidate as a unit now?

Yes, it has helped to an extent. But government has to change policies to help people from lower caste do business. However, Dalit Chambers of Commerce is expanding its branch. We will soon open its office in Agra to help the lower caste. 

Did reservation help you in your growth?

I haven’t taken any help of reservation. For your own business and loans from bank, you do not need any reservation. My sons studied in public schools and started doing business. I am fighting on reserved constituency seat from Agra Cantt.

Are you against reservation?

I am not against reservation. But education is a must. It will enlighten the lower caste. Problem starts from the dalit family as most of them are poor. An eight-year-old dalit kid is sent to work in a factory by his family. It is not their fault. Government should intervene and open education centres in dalit neighbourhoods. Teach the parents how to run the house. Only reservation will not help.

In politics and business in Agra, the dalits have carved a niche, but they are almost nowhere as academicians.

As you were doing extremely well in business, why do you want to fight elections?

I want to give something to the poor. Help them in getting loan from banks and tell them how to use it. There is nobody to teach them. The policy of UP government is not good. They have opened desi liquor shops in dalit neighbourhoods. Her intention is that poor should remain poor and continue to say Mayawati Zindabad. This is bad.

You are against the Mayawati government. But she, too, comes from a Jatav family. She is a dalit lady but is harming the dalit cause. She has hardly done anything for the upliftemnt of the lower section of the society. All upper caste ministers benefit from her policy. She has chosen illiterate people from the dalit community in her ministry who couldn’t even take the oath properly.

Why did you choose the Congress instead of the BSP?

I am in touch with the Congress Party for the last 30 years. It is because of the party’s policy that banks were nationalised and helped people like me. Rahul Gandhi has given me ticket because he knows my background. He has faith in me and has seen my social work for the community and chose me.

Do you hope to win?

As a businessman, I like to take challenges. I am very confident of winning the seat because I don’t have enemy in Agra.

Who is your source of inspiration – Kanshi Ram or Dr Ambedkar?

Kanshi Ram is not my source of inspiration but the only person is Baba Saheb Ambedkar. His life and philosophy inspire me.

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