INDIA. Mumbai: An American-born Indian scholar Dr. Gail Omvedt died at her residence at Kasegaon in Sangli district in Western Maharashtra after a prolonged illness on Wednesday.
She was 81 and is survived by her husband Bharat Patankar, daughter Prachi, granddaughter Nia, and son-in-law Tejaswi. She will be laid to rest on Thursday morning at the Krantiveer Bapuji Patankar Sanstha campus in Sangli.
Dr. Omvedt was a former Chair Professor for the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Chair of Social Change and Development at the Indira Gandhi National Open University(IGNOU). She was also on the board of institutes like Savitribai Phule Pune University and Nordic Institute of Asian Studies. In recent years she was associated with the United Nations Development Programme as a consultant on various issues. She dedicated her life to research in studies of India’s marginalized and worked relentlessly for their upliftment.
She originally hailed from Minneapolis and completed her education in the US and came to India for doctoral research on social movements and the work of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule in 1971. After her marriage to activist Bharat Patankar, Dr. Omvedt obtained Indian citizenship in 1983 and was residing with his family in their Sangli village ever since. Her mother-in-law was the notable Communist leader and feminist activist Indumati Patankar.
Bharat Patankar and Dr. Omvedt set up the socio-political organization “Shramik Mukti Dal” in 1980 to address the issues of farmers and others toiling on land in Maharashtra. Over the years, the organization took up concerns of those affected by dams, drought, and project evictions, besides fighting caste-based oppressions.
Her scholarly writings were deeply connected with her activism on the ground, and through both, she influenced generations of students and young people. She was the head of the department of sociology and the Phule-Ambedkar chair in Sociology at the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU).
Dr. Omvedt was a prolific writer, having published 22 books including Mahatma Phule, Dalit, and the Democratic Revolution, Understanding Caste, and a biography of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. She also wrote articles for newspapers and worked on projects with the United Nations Development Programme.
“As a researcher and a scholar, Dr. Omvedt contributed significantly to the social movements, folk traditions, literature in India as well as for the rights of women and the underprivileged. Her contribution will always be remembered as a scholar who had devoted herself to the society,” Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said in a statement.
The “Dalit Intellectual Collective” said she was one of India’s most original thinkers who did not let caste and class be erased in the feminist movement. “Time is yet to produce another scholar and incisive and capacious thinker like her,” it said in a statement.
“Dr. Gail Omvedt was a very high-level public intellectual because she integrated with the aspirations of the common people particularly the Bahujan class in Maharashtra. Her analysis of the cultural movements in Maharashtra, particularly of Mahatma Phule’s Satyashodhak movement, took the Left movement ahead in the state,” Senior CPI (M) leader Ajit Abhyankar said.
Comrade Prakash Reddy, Member Secretary, Communist Party of India, Maharashtra Council, recalled Dr. Omvedt’s yeomen service to the underprivileged people and paid rich tributes. Historian Ramchandra Guha, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury, Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar also offered their condolences.