Women PeaceMaker Profile
A brazen human rights activist and lawyer, Manjula Pradeep has spent her life defending the rights of India’s women and Dalits, the “untouchables” of the Hindu caste system. Pradeep, a Dalit herself, knows intimately the intersectionality of grief and abuse that Dalit women experience at the bottom of all of India’s social hierarchies – caste, class and gender. But she has defied India’s patriarchal and caste-structured society. As the executive director of Navsarjan Trust, a grassroots Dalit rights organization based in India’s Gujarat state, Pradeep is a respected and prominent woman leader of the Dalit movement.
Knowing education was the answer to escaping her fated place in society, Pradeep defied her father to go to university, where she became an outspoken activist for justice in her Dalit community. After completing her master’s degree in social work, Pradeep became Navsarjan’s first female employee. As she joined the organization’s mission to eliminate caste and gender-based discrimination, Pradeep observed more of the realities of life for Dalit women and researched atrocities committed against Dalits. Witnessing an old Dalit woman struggling for justice for her son who had been brutally beaten and killed by police, Pradeep realized the need for human rights issues to be fought not just in the streets, but also in the courts. So Pradeep became a lawyer.
Pushing for the inclusion of women in Navsarjan’s staff and leadership, as well as the entire Dalit rights movement, Pradeep was elected as Navsarjan’s executive director in 2004. In her 19 years with Navsarjan, she has trained hundreds of Dalit activists, provided legal aid and intervention for sexual violence and caste-based atrocities, and advocated for land reform and the eradication of manual scavenging (the illegal occupation of handling human excrement).
In 2008, Pradeep defended the case of a young Dalit girl who had endured long-term gang rape by six professors in her college. The year-long case pitted Pradeep against caste leaders, politicians, media, police and the courts, but resulted in life imprisonment for all six accused. Navsarjan then took on more than 35 cases of sexual violence against minors and young women.
Pradeep is also involved in the national and state level programs of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights. She is an executive committee member of the International Dalit Solidarity Network and, in 2001, raised the visibility of Dalit rights at the U.N. World Conference Against Racism, in South Africa. Pradeep has taken on the two most significant social injustices in India, devoting her life to championing the dignity and rights of her own community. Her voice is an amplifier for those whom society silences, or simply ignores.
Pradeep was a Woman PeaceMaker in 2011.