Shreya Konkimalla of Edina is only a ninth grader, but she's already written a book that takes on the heavy topic of India's caste system and its legacy of discrimination that still persists.
The self-published book, "Free Birds," takes place in India in the 1750s, where the caste system divides people into social categories. It follows a young girl named Navya who is born into an upper rank.
After the father commits a faux pas, the family is demoted into the lowest category known as the Dalits, or Untouchables. They were given the dirtiest jobs and weren't even allowed to touch someone of another caste, Konkimalla said.
"If you touched their shadow, you would have to go home and take a bath because that's how dirty they were considered," she said.
Konkimalla told MPR News she has always loved writing. In middle school, she joined a writing club. After her mom entered one of her poems in a contest, it won a national prize.
Konkimalla's curiosity about the caste system began while visiting her grandparents in India. She asked her mom questions and did research on the internet.
While India's caste system no longer officially exists, its remnants are still visible.
"It's really hard to be a in lower caste or have ancestors who were in lower castes and to really make your way up in society, because higher castes really have this upper hand, and sometimes these lower castes are still discriminated against," Konkimalla said.
Konkimalla said the lessons of caste history can be applied to today's society. She hopes school districts will buy her book and use it in the classroom to teach about discrimination.
"Just like Navya, people don't get to choose the caste they're born into — like the color of their skin or their race or their religion," Konkimalla said.
Listen to Konkimalla's conversation with host Tom Weber by using the audio player above.