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Gail Omvedt, the social activist and researcher, dies at 81

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Aambedkarite Dr. Gail Omvedt died on Wednesday at the age of 81. Omvedt died of a prolonged illness. Her husband, a renowned activist, Bharat Patankar, announced her death.

Who was Gail Omvedt?

Omvedt was born on August 2 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, She received PhD from UC Berkley in 1973. She came as a student from the US in the 1970s to research India’s socio-cultural movements. She met freedom-fighter and activist Indumati Patankar. 

She was inspired by the work of Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar, and decided to work in India for marginalized communities. She also wrote books on topics like Dalit politics, women’s struggles, and the anti-caste movement. Later she married Indumati Patankar’s son and renowned activist in Maharashtra, Bharat Patankar. Omvedt was granted Indian citizenship in 1983 and she stayed in Kasegaon in Satara district till her death.

Omvedt was part of the anti-war movement in the USA and later became part of the anti-caste movement in India. Her thesis named ‘Non-Brahmin Movement in Western India’ gave her work recognition.

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She was truly Phule-Ambedkarite and took forward their legacy through her work. She started and participated in social movements after the Emergency. Her major work was for rural women, farmers, forest dwellers, and women-headed households. She also started the women’s rights movement in the 1970s. 

She was among the first researcher who studied the ‘Satyashodhak Samaj’, started by social reformer Mahatma Phule. Bharat Patankar and she co-founded ‘Shramik Mukti Dal’ for the betterment of abandoned women in Sangli and Satara.

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

She fought for the rights of people displaced due to the Koyna Dam.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said in a tweet that Dr. Gail Omvedt not only contributed as a researcher in social movements, saints’ literature, and traditions but also actively participated in movements for the rights of women, deprived sections. She will remain as a scholar who became an integral part of society.

Omvedt’s other famous books are In Colonial Society – Non-Brahmin Movement in Western India, Seeking Begampura, Buddhism in India, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Mahatma Phule, Dalit, and the Democratic Revolution, Understanding Caste, We Will Smash the Prison and New Social Movement in India.

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