Gail Omvedt, 81, has died; India became his home, the caste system his cause

Gail Omvedt, an anti-caste activist, scholar and prolific author who championed the cause of India’s marginalized communities and was a ...

Gail Omvedt, an anti-caste activist, scholar and prolific author who championed the cause of India’s marginalized communities and was a leader of the country’s feminist movement, died on August 25 at her home in the western state of Maharashtra. She was 81 years old.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Prachi Patankar, who did not specify a cause.

Ms Omvedt, whose death was widely reported in Indian media, was a sociologist who contributed to the study of caste systems in South Asia, drawing wider attention to the lives of Dalits, the oppressed caste an times more commonly called The Untouchables.

She moved to India in the 1970s, taught at universities there, and wrote over a dozen books, including “Understanding caste: from Buddha to Ambedkar and beyond»And a biography of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the main author of the Indian constitution.

She was also a longtime activist who chose to live among those she worked with and wrote about in Maharashtra, India’s second most populous state. She spoke Marathi, the local language perfectly, and spent considerable time working in poor communities struggling against caste oppression in rural areas.

“She took me to unknown regions and introduced me to Dalit movements new to me,” said Ruth Manorama, leader of the nonprofit group National Federation of Dalit Women, referring to her Dalit colleagues in the Indian caste hierarchy. “She was the motivator, the influencer, a great organizer and a scholar with no preconceptions on her subject.”

Gail Marie Omvedt was born on August 2, 1941 to a Scandinavian immigrant family in Minneapolis. Her father, Jack, worked for years as a lawyer for Native Americans in Minnesota. Her mother, Dorothy, was a housewife.

After graduating from Carleton College in Minnesota, Ms. Omvedt received a Fulbright Fellowship in 1963 to study rural communities in India. She continued her education at the University of California at Berkeley, where she was active in political protests, earning a master’s and then a doctorate. in sociology. She returned to India in 1970 to continue her research for her thesis on the caste system.

There, she became involved in movements to mobilize thousands of poorly paid textile factory workers and displaced farmers devastated by drought. During a protest march, she met Bharat Patankar, a longtime activist. They married in 1976.

Over the years, the couple have played an important role in drawing attention to the struggles of the working class in the Maharashtra region, including women’s issues and agricultural and environmental challenges as well as the constraints of the system. castes.

Ms. Omvedt renounced her US citizenship and became an Indian citizen in 1983. She began working with her husband to create Shramik Mukti Dal (Workers’ Liberation League), an organization that started some of the largest organized mass movements against the injustices suffered by the workers of rural India.

Through this organization, she has launched a number of feminist campaigns, for example helping women victims of domestic violence and those who have been abandoned by their husbands and need to find sustainable work.

For decades, while based in her home in Kasegaon, a village in rural Maharashtra, Ms. Omvedt collected and translated texts and works from figures in the anticast movement and documented the lives of those around her.

For those studying the caste system and identity politics in India, Ms Omvedt was a key archivist, columnist and interpreter, said Ms Manorama, director of Dalit Women.

Besides her daughter, Ms. Omvedt is survived by her husband and a granddaughter.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Gail Omvedt, 81, has died; India became his home, the caste system his cause
Gail Omvedt, 81, has died; India became his home, the caste system his cause
Newsrust - US Top News
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