The US has hundreds of African American chambers of commerce to help the African American people do business. Emulating this, Dalits in India set up the first Dalit Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) in 2005.

On May 28, DICCI will launch its Mumbai chapter at a grand event at the Taj Hotel. More than a 100 Dalit business-persons from India and abroad will gather in the ballroom on the 28th floor of the hotel, where the Bombay Stock Exchange will conduct a session on ‘How to raise capital with BSE'.

The Chamber aims to change the general perception about Dalits — from weak and crippled sections of the society who cannot progress without the Government's reservation policy to those who can overcome all odds and achieve something on their own.

In a bid to make the 12th Plan more inclusive, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwahlia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, has invited DICCI to provide inputs about SC/ST expectations for the Plan.

Mr Milind Kamble, Chairman, DICCI, who serves as member on the social justice steering committee, will submit an approach paper to the Planning Commission soon.

The membership of DICCI is open to SC/ST business-persons with a turnover of more than Rs 25 lakh. There are more than 30 Dalit crorepati businessmen, according to a recent report. The plan is to set up 50 chapters and enrol 10,000 members from the current 1,000.

The Chamber, set up in 2005, shot into prominence last year when it conducted its first trade fair sponsored by Tata and Thermax.

“Compared to the CII, which is 115 years old, we are new and have started small,” says Mr Kamble. He recently met Mr B. Muthuraman, President, CII, and efforts are on to connect DICCI business-persons with CII members.

Today, it is largely self-funded by a small team headed by Mr Kamble, who is the CMD of Fortune Construction Company. But going forward, a structure will be put in place to make it independent, says Mr Kamble. Financial advisors of the chamber are identifying private equity participants.

“If Dalits are seen as weak, nobody will hire them. In the US, when the African Americans became stronger, affirmative action came into place. In India too, only when the OBCs became stronger did they start getting jobs. Dalits also have to assert themselves,” says Mr Chandrabhan Prasad, social psychologist and political commentator.

There are 1.9 million African American-owned businesses in the US. African American businesses account for over $1 trillion in expendable income each year, according to the US Bureau of Census. They contribute to more than 10 per cent of US GDP, says Mr Kamble.

(This article was published on May 19, 2011)
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