Gail Omvedt: The embodiment of unshakable resolve for the realisation of vision of Jotiba Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar (Remembering Gail Omvedt) – written by Mangesh Dahiwale
In the social movement and revolution, the enample of people sacrificing their everything is rare and those who sacrifice their everything for the community in which they are not born is the rarest. Gail Omvedt was not only the rarest one, but very special human being. Just a couple of days back when I was in Pune, Advocate Priyadarshi Vaishali suggested that we should go to Kasegaon to meet Gail Madam. We used to call her madam in a sense of a teacher and teacher indeed she was of many in the movement. We just could not address her as Gail as she wanted us to. How can we? She was a teacher par excellence.
Born in USA with a passion for social change initially inspired by Marx, Gail Madam’s life completely changed after pursuing her research work on Jotiba Phule. What a vision of “Democratic Revolution” she inspired through her research work! She was not satiated in exposing the vision but gave herself totally to that great vision with her life time commitment. She fearlessly talked in Marathi with the rural women. She addressed academia with sharp intellect. She moved mountain of masses with her writings committed to social transformation. There is so much one can write about her intellectual contribution, just the title of the books she wrote will give us the idea of her towering contribution.
But for me, Gail Omvedt will remain in my heart as the motherly compassionate embodiment of the committment to the cause of Dalits, OBCs, and the most marginalised communities. She was committed to freedom of women and she would sometimes break into spontaneous slogan of the women’s movement of which she was a leading member: तुरुंग फोडा (break the prisons of patriarchy).
I met Gail Madam in Delhi in 2002 when she was based in ISI and working on a few very important project. I cannot forget my first meeting with Gail madam. She was writing on the computer and when she got bored she would play Solitaire (an online cardgame) for a few minutes and would again go back to writing. Some of us are really lucky that Gail Madam stayed with us in a very tiny house in Vasant Kunj in New Delhi and we are very fortunate to be blessed by her loving presence and learn at her auspicious feets whatever we could.
She brought Kabir in our lives by gifting as Abida’s rendering of Dohas. She used to love listening to Abida’s Kabir. She introduced forgotten Indologists to us like Gustav Oppert. She gave so much in the form of love, knowledge, and awakening. Her eyes shone whenever she uttered the words: Jai Joti; Jai Bhim. She used to sing Tukoba’s Abhang so effortlessly. She never liked to call Tukoba as Tukaram. We boys alongwith Gail madam and Bharat sir listened to music, sometimes watched movies. And some movies like A boy in Stripped Pyjama moved both Gail madam and Bharat sir to tears. They were a special couple like Jotiba and Savitrimai.
I often took Gail madam on my bike to meet people in New Delhi whenever I could. And this one episode will remain forever with me. Manyavar Kanshiram Saheb had a brainstroke and Saheb was admitted in Batra Hospital in New Delhi. Gail madam was restless hearing this tragic news and she was emotionally moved and shattered. This is because Gail madam and her research work was one of the guiding lights for the BSP and BAMCEF. Saheb Kanshiram used to meet Gail madam whenever he got the opportunity.
Gail madam took me to see Kanshiram Saheb to Batra Hospital. Saheb was bedridden and despite of repeated requests Gail madam was not allowed to meet or see Manyavar. Gail Madam sat emotionally near the room for half an hour and we left without seeing ailing Manyavar.
Madam was such a kind personality. She loved and cherished people. She was prompt in introducing people and connect the dots. While she was working on Korean Translation of her Ambedkar biography, she introduced me to Korean publisher for Babasahab’s photographs and thus opened a window to link up with South Korean Human Right groups.
Her quest in life was Raidas’s Begumpura, Buddha’s Sukhavati, Tukoba’s vaikunth, Jotiba’s Satyashodhak Samaj and Balirajya, and Babasaheb’s Prabuddha Bharat.
She contributed to this vision by utmost dedication and supreme sacrifice. India will awaken to her life and mission as the Bahujan movement will progresses. If anyone deserved to be Bharat Ratna, that was Gail Omvedt. In reality, she was more than any recognition which she never cared for. She was happy writing her books in a remote village of Maharashtra in a tin shade sometimes without fan in the scorching heat. That was Gail, the sublime life, well lived life, and enlightened life dedicated to others without asking anything in return and without making any complaints.
Jai Joti and Jai Bhim to you, beloved Gail Madam!