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Gail Omvedt, social researcher and activist, dies at 81

Dr. Gail Omvedt co-founded Shramik Mukti Dal with her husband and activist Bharat Patankar.

Dr Gail Omvedt (Twitter/Praful Patel)

Noted academician Dr Gail Omvedt died Wednesday at the age of 81. An American-born Indian scholar, she authored books on Dalit politics, women’s struggles and anti-caste movement. Omvedt died after a prolonged illness. Her death was announced by her husband Bharat Patankar.

“Omvedt was a committed, courageous and prolific writer who brought to the fore the Phule-Ambedkar legacy in the context of rising social movements in the post-Emergency period. Her close association with grassroots movements of rural women, farmers, forest dwellers and women-headed households and her involvement in the women’s rights movement in the late 1970s were captured in her book, We Shall Smash this Prison,” Dr Vibhuti Patel, vice-president of the Indian association for Women’s studies told The Indian Express.

Born on August 2 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Omdevt had received her PhD from UC Berkley in 1973. She had come as a student from the US and setted in India for further studies in the 1970s. During her research into socio-cultural movements here, Omvedt met freeedom-fighter and activist Indumati Patankar and later married her son, Bharat.

Omvedt was granted Indian citizenship in 1983 and continued to stay in Kasegaon in Satara district to work with her husband.

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Ajit Abhyankar, senior leader of Communist Party of India (Marxist), said Omvedt was the first researcher to study the political implication of the Satyashodhak Samaj, started by social reformer Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, which spurred new research in this field. “The assertion of political identity of the movement was of immense help to the Leftist movement in the state,” he said.

An active member of Shramik Mukti Dal, which she co-founded with her husband, Omvedt worked for the betterment of abandoned women in Sangli and Satara.

She was also on the board of institutes like Savitribai Phule Pune University, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies and Indira Gandhi Open University. In recent years she was associated with the United Nations Development Programme as a consultant on various issues.


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Historian Ramchandra Guha, CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury, NCP president Sharad Pawar and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray expressed condolences at her death. Thackeray said Omvedt’s contribution to various social movements, folk traditions, and her work on women’s rights will be remembered.

She is survived by her husband, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter.

First published on: 25-08-2021 at 11:24:08 am
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