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Dr Gail Omvedt (81), one of the greatest scholars on caste studies, passed away on August 24, 2021 evening in her village, Kasegaon, Sangli, Maharashtra.
Omvedt has pioneered caste studies having come as a student from the US and settled down in India in the 1970s. She later married Bharat Patankar, a Marxist scholar and activist; both of them lived in his village over these years. She came to study caste and Mahatma Phule’s movement in Maharashtra as a PhD student, and was moved by the kind of caste and untouchability system she encountered in India. Omvedt settled down in this country to work for the liberation of the oppressed castes.
As an American-born Indian scholar, sociologist and human rights activist, she was well known all over the world for her writing on Dalits/OBCs/Adivasis.
She was a prolific writer and published numerous books. Her PhD thesis introduced Mahatma Phule’s Satyashodhak Movement to the world and her major book, Dalits and Democratic Revolution, became a handbook in every young student’s hands in the colleges and universities across India, and also in the South Asian study centres of the world. Scholars study her books to understand the question of caste and untouchability, and also to change the caste system. She was a great Phule-Ambedkarite, who led many movements from the front. The Shudra/OBC/Dalit/Adivasi movements all over India will be indebted to her lifetime of work.
All of us who worked with her in a long journey of Dalit/OBC/Adivasi/women’s liberation movements for the last 40 years, along with her husband Bharat Patankar and daughter Prachi Patanakar, will celebrate her life and work as proud Indians.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is political theorist, social activist. His latest book is The Shudras: Vision For a New Path, co-edited with Karthik Raja Karuppusamy.