Born into India’s Dalit caste, Manjula Pradeep was destined for a life of hardship. She would be lucky to make enough of a living to see her 50th birthday. Instead, she changed her future through determination and the legal process and earned her master’s degree in social work. She eventually became a lawyer, advocating on behalf of minority groups. In one of her most famous cases, she won justice for a Dalit student who was raped by six of her professors.
Manjula understood that to change the future, she had to start with the way that Dalit children were educated. She started the Navsarjan Vidyalaya school to break down social barriers between castes. By teaching them English and fundamental academics, she creates a solid educational foundation. But she also emphasizes the ideal of equality. The children are taught to challenge the strict caste system and they all participate in preparing meals with the head cook, who was cast out by her family when they learned that her husband had given her HIV. As Manjula states, “When they [the children] get out, they know to question their situation in life and to push for equality. It’s a way to help the next generation.”