Race relations trailblazer's legacy to be honoured with awards and scholarship

With her striking sari and a slash of red lipstick, she was a force to be reckoned with.

Now, the legacy of one of Scotland’s pioneering race relations campaigners is to be honoured with a clutch of new awards and scholarships.

Saroj Lal, whose restless commitment to equality took her from an Edinburgh primary school classroom to the helm of the Lothian Racial Equality Council, died last March at the age of 82.

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A year on, the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), the University of Edinburgh, and the City of Edinburgh Council are set to announce three new initiatives designed to promote equality and diversity across the Scottish education system and in wider society.

At the start of the 1970s, an era in which the educational focus was primarily on ‘assimilation’ rather than multiculturalism, Ms Lal became one of the first teachers from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background at a Scottish school when she took up her post at South Morningside Primary.

She would go on to shape the lives of her pupils, and countless others across her adopted home city.

Ms Lal’s tireless campaigning helped authorities break down barriers across languages, cultures, and faiths. She worked with the then Lothian and Borders Police to help to implement robust reporting systems and equal opportunities policies, and ensured that the dietary and religious needs of those from ethnic minorities were met in Scotland’s hospitals.

Her son, Vineet, said his mother viewed herself as being part of a “relay race” towards progress.

Saroj Lal has been hailed as "a trailblazer in fighting for fairness for all." Picture: Vineet Lal

“She used to say she was privileged to carry the baton for so many years, and that if she didn’t run with it, it would be dropped,” he recalled.

“A mixture of education, voluntary work, and her work in race relations all combined to create the perfect formula for her achievements, and at the end of the day, the baton has been passed on.”

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Ms Lal, who was born in Gujranwala in the Punjab province of what is now Pakistan, and raised in India, became the first Asian woman to sit as a Justice of the Peace in Scotland, with tributes paid to her in the Scottish Parliament following her death.

Saroj Lal was one of Scotland's first BAME teachers. Picture: Vineet Lal

The first award in her honour will be announced today with the GTCS’s Saroj Lal Award for a Pioneering Spirit in Equality and Diversity.

The national award will identify and celebrate the efforts of those teachers who exceed expectations and who demonstrate a pioneering spirit and challenge adversity to promote equality and diversity.

The University of Edinburgh is creating an inaugural scholarship in Ms Lal’s name, to be awarded to an applicant from a BAME background who is accepted onto a primary teaching programme at Moray House School of Education and Sport.

The university said it honoured a woman who was “a trailblazer in fighting for fairness for all, and in particular for disadvantaged and marginalised BAME women.”

The council, meanwhile, will unveil plans in the summer for an annual equalities award in Ms Lal’s name to “shine a light on the impact of prejudice.”

Asked what his mother would have made of the recognition, Vineet added: “She wasn’t one for vaunting her own achievements, but she knew that in order to achieve what she did, she couldn’t be shy and retiring.”

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