Edinburgh school should not be named after Saroj Lal as she is “not Scottish”, claims critics embroiled in racist row
A campaign to name a new Morningside primary school after the trailblazing educator Saroj Lal has sparked a racist backlash online.
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The late Mrs Lal was one of the first Asian women to teach in a Scottish primary school and spent her life campaigning for equal opportunities for all.
Since the celebrated teacher’s son Vineet Lal announced his plan to get a school named in his mother's honour, his campaign has received significant support.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Mr Lal.
Recently, the campaign has dealt with racism and microaggressions with some claiming Saroj Lal is “not a Scottish name” and should not be used.
Opposing the campaign on Facebook, one critic described naming the school after Mrs Lal as a “disgrace” and said: “let’s name it after a famous Edinburgher. ”
Mr Lal has voiced frustration at this argument, as his mother spent the majority of her life in Edinburgh and helped shape the city through her role as director of Lothian Racial Equality Council (LREC).
“If she is not an Edinburgher, what is she?” he said.
Another critic said they feared naming the school after the famous educator, who was born in Gujranwala (then in British India), risked eroding Scottish culture.
They wrote “The UK is in danger of turning its back on it’s own traditions, culture and history . At a time when our history is being constantly eroded, the name Saroj Lal just isn't Scottish.This is a Scottish school and it’s name should properly reflect the area.”
Local councillor “surprised,” critics think Saroj Lal is not Scottish enough
Councillor Mandy Watt, who has publicly supported Mr Lal’s campaign said the idea that people would think Ms Lal’s name is not Scottish enough had “never occurred to her”.
Cllr Watt said: “It never occurred to me that anybody would think her name wasn’t Scottish enough and I can’t see why that’s relevant.
“This proposal is an excellent opportunity to show that service to our community is valued, regardless of a person’s gender, race or wealth.”
However, Mr Lal said he knew “only too well” that there would be opposition to naming the school after his mother due to her name's foreign origin.
Having been born and raised in Edinburgh, Mr Lal said he remembered being repeatedly asked “where are you really from” as a child.
“This question has followed me through my whole life. It was never enough to say I am from Scotland or I am from Edinburgh,” he explained. “Everyone wanted an exotic answer.”
Over the years, Mr Lal has met many people unwilling to understand that he is called Vineet Lal and also born and raised in the Capital.
One of the city’s leading anti-racism figures, Sir Geoff Palmer, agreed that the response to both the late Mrs Lal and Mr Lal's names is not uncommon.
He said: “I am not surprised by these comments because often non-white people are seen as not being part of Scottish culture.”
Sir Geoff went on to say that not all of Scotland’s street names have Scottish origin and such prejudices should not influence the decision of whose namesake to honour.
“We have India Street, Jamaica Street and Mandela Place,” he said. “Such prejudices should not influence the decision.”