Saroj Lal (1937-2020) was a truly remarkable woman who was ahead of her time.
A pioneering educator, activist and campaigner in Scottish race relations during the 1970s, 80s and 90, she challenged perceptions and stereotypes throughout her life, leading Edinburgh’s crusade against racism, injustice and discrimination.
She was also among the city’s earliest black or Asian primary school teachers when she began teaching at South Morningside Primary School in August 1970. She went on to work with minority communities at the YWCA before moving to Lothian Racial Equality Council, where she remained for 16 years, latterly as Director.
Saroj was a trailblazing figure in Edinburgh’s recent history – her achievements within the city are numerous, including: the founding and development of the Edinburgh Hindu Temple and the establishment of its permanent home in Leith; the inclusion of multi-faith symbols at Mortonhall Crematorium and within The Sanctuary at The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh; establishing Edinburgh’s first dedicated ethnic library at McDonald Road; founding the Asian Cultural Girls’ Club at Drummond Community High School and the ground-breaking Continuation Course for Asian girls at Telford College.
She defended the rights of minority communities, of the elderly and vulnerable, of the disenfranchised and the marginalised. She fought for equality for women, refugees and asylum seekers. Her legacy remains all around us. In 1986 she became the first Asian woman in Scotland to be appointed as a Justice of the Peace.
A new primary school is currently being built on Canaan Lane in Edinburgh’s Morningside and in homage to Saroj’s ground-breaking work in the city, one of the two options for the school’s name is Saroj Lal Primary School. The final decision is due to made shortly.
Naming the school after Saroj would not only be a tangible – and highly visible – means of marking her life and enduring legacy to Edinburgh, but more importantly, would inspire generations of young people yet to come. That decision would send a powerful message to the world about Edinburgh and Scotland, about us, about what we stand for. It would place Edinburgh centre stage – as a global leader in taking a stance against racism, and in the ongoing fight for equality, diversity and fairness for all.
Read more about Saroj Lal pioneering life in a podcast for TES Scotland, recorded by Saroj’s son, Vineet Lal >
With thanks to Vineet Lal for providing content for this page.