Executive Director: Manjula Pradeep…
Manjula has led Navsarjan as the Executive Director since 2004, after working with the organization for 12 years as its first female member.
After receiving a Masters in Social Work from M.S. University in Baroda in 1992, Manjula immediately joined Navsarjan. At that point, Navsarjan was still a relatively small organization striving to build trust at the grassroots level through its fieldworkers. Manjula, immersed in field work, used her first three years with Navsarjan to gain additional experience concerning the realities of Dalit life, while strengthening Navsarjan’s legal cells in the fight against atrocities.
Starting in 1995, Manjula began to work in Vadodara District of Southern Gujarat, concentrating in the non-implementation of minimum wages for agricultural laborers, and also in issues of bonded labor—a kind of slavery that, though illegal, continues to this day. In 1997 she added a law degree, at the same time helping to found an agricultural laborers’ union, and developing women’s cooperatives in order to encourage economic independence.
Manjula began to conduct training programs for new Navsarjan fieldworkers in 2000, and used the opportunity to strengthen the leadership skills of other Dalit women within the organization. This goal has continued to be a priority for Navsarjan.
Now having led Navsarjan since 2004, trained thousands of grassroots activists and dozens of advocacy organizations, represented the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), served as a member of the Executive Committee for the National Center for Advocacy Studies, personally briefed the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and repeatedly represented the issues facing Dalits and Dalit women internationally in Switzerland, the United States, South Africa, and many other countries, Manjula is one of India’s foremost Dalit woman leaders.
In direct contact with the addressees of Navsarjan’s efforts—as well as with its adversaries—Navsarjan’s fieldworkers are the true face and the arms of the organisation. Everyday they are exposed to complex situations, ranging from the worst atrocity cases to domestic disputes.
Fieldworkers are required, at times, to fill in forms and write letters, settle arguments between conflicting parties and deal with the authorities—all while being inspiring community leaders. Navsarjan’s fieldworkers have become “all around activists” who visit Dalit communities in the villages and run district and taluka offices.
Navsarjan currently employs about 100 fieldworkers, each of whom must complete a one-year training course that equips them with the necessary legal, political and social knowledge to counsel, represent and support Dalit villagers whenever they are confronted by an administrative body. They are supported in their daily activities by a range of volunteers (Swayamsevaks), many of whom have themselves taken part in Navsarjan's training programs.
However, the best preparation and ultimately the greatest asset that Navsarjan’s fieldworkers possess is the fact that they were born and raised in the very villages they work in. This gives them an almost natural understanding of the problems faced by their fellow Dalits, and helps them to build the network of acquaintances and relations crucial for fieldwork. Knowing and befriending village representatives, schoolteachers, police inspectors or even paan and tea wallas proves to be very helpful in their daily activities. It keeps them informed of the latest developments and insures a smooth collaboration when it is needed most.
Within the communities, Navsarjan’s fieldworkers are revered for their dedication and determination. Those in positions of power—often the enemies of the exploited—fear the fieldworkers for these same reasons, and threats are not uncommon. Thus, it is a genuine process of empowerment that actually takes place through the social workers, whereby their knowledge, skills and personal strengths contribute to release the potential of many other villagers.