After the demise of Gail Omvedt, many events are organised to remember the giant of the social movement all over and she will be remember for her contribution to further the Phule- Ambedkarite movement. This not is to remind ourselves of her spirit. In 1966, Gail Omvedt wrote her MA thesis as a student in the University of California (UC), Berkeley, which was titled as: Caste, Conflict, and Rebellion. It was later published as CuItural Revolt in a Colonial Society: The non-Brahman movement in Western Maharashtra 1873 -1930. The readers will not fail to notice the loaded words like rebellion and revolt. The theme of revolution features in her last books like Building the Ambedkar Revolution: Sambhaji Tukaram Gaikwad and the Kokan Dalits.
Gail Omvedt was many persons to many people but the integrated whole of her personality can be captured in her spirit of rebellion and revolutionary. Gail Omvedt was a revolutionary and she was stressing on revolution from the start of her career.
What kind of revolutionary was Gail Omvedt?
She was seeking Begumpura of Ravidas, Prempur of Kabir, Balirajya of Jotiba, Prabuddha Bharat of Babasaheb Ambedkar, and Sukhawati of the Buddha. She was revolting against oppression of caste, class, patriarchy, and ethnic nationalism and pushing the society towards evolution of more equal, egalitarian, free, and democratic society.
Her revolutionary creed can be summarized in the Gatha of Dhammapada, she used to recite in Pali:
na hi verena verani sammati ca kudacanam
averana ca samanti, eso dhammo sanantano
(The hatred can never be quenched by hatred, only by non-hatred the hatred can be quenched: this is the eternal law)
Gail Omvedt was the Buddhist Revolutionary who worked all her life with a dictum: love towards all and malice towards none. Unlike arm-chair revolutionary, Gail Omvedt was always engaged with the people and communities throughout her revolutionary life. Engagement with people and their problems as belonging to them was very much a part of her being.
It will take a lot of pages to describe the intellectual dimension of Gail Omvedt, but suffice here is to say that Gail Omvedt developed revolutionary intellect, revolutionary ideas, and revolutionary categories. If one wants to understand how Gail Omvedt created revolutionary intellectual concepts, pick up her small and powerful book: Understanding caste. The titles of the chapters are enough to give us intellectual shock value. Think of the title like Hinduism as Patriarchy and discussion on Ramabai and Tarabai. Think of Hinduism as Delhi Rule followed by discussion on Periyar and the emergence of BSP as a challenge to Hinduism in the same book.
Her revolutionary ideas were not forged in the speculative abstraction or running away from the society. If philosophising is a bid to transform the world, Gail Omvedt was a revolutionary practitioner of such a philosophy. She did not just think of the world around her, but acted with all her being and strenght to transform it into a better and more humane world. She derived her revolutionary intellect by being with the people, living with them, travelling with them, and by becoming inseparable part of them. This sort of life that in reality becomes the part and parcel of other’s life is the beginning of the revolution and her relationship with people was never hierarchical.
Gail Omvedt engaged with almost all the issues that concerns the humanity due to unjust social, cultural, economic, and political structures. Be it an issue of farmers, the landless, water, food, caste, gender, class, and religion, her intellect explored them widely and deeply. Early on, her interest was in all kinds of movements. She was in a way a Philosopher of Movement. Look at the book which was published in 1993, she gave it a title ” Reinventing Revolution: New Social Movements and the Socialist Tradition in India.” She wrote a small tract in 1990 called Violence against Woman: New movements and new theories in India.
Her inquiry into the movements in India is interesting not just to study her take on them, but also because she was preparing grounds for the movements to understand each other, find the common grounds, and communicate on that common basis to work in solidarity. Gail Omvedt was someone who moved freely between the movements and become part and parcel of various movements. She sometimes acted as a bridge between various movements. She fed her ideas in the movements and derived her ideas from the movements.
As far as Phule- Ambedkarite movement goes, she wanted not to theorize the thoughts of revolutionary Phule and Ambedkar, but make that theory to understand various movements in India: old and new. Her broader methodology was to study the present, understand its various dimensions and study the past of the present issues and problems with a quest to find their resolution and solution in the future. In this methodology, she was always people-centric. She wanted to communicate the pain of untouchability when she translated autobiography of Vasant Moon: Growing up Untouchable in India. She wanted to tell the world how Ambedkar Revolution is based in villages, on ground, in different parts of India when she wrote on a less known figure in the Ambedkarite movement like Sambhaji Tukaram Gaikwad.
In her intellectual quest, she made cultural revolution an integral part of her being. Cultural revolt was a theme of her life. V. Geetha recently brought to my notice and interesting paper written by Gail Omvedt: Revolutionary Music of India published in 1977. Gail Omvedt even sought revolution in music. Gail Omvedt would use all the vehicles she would to further the cause of her ” Buddhist Revolution” and find solace in the Navayana Framework of Babasaheb Ambedkar and will be always with us through her rebellious and revolutionary spirit imbibed with rationalism and singing with us the Abhangs of Tukoba, Dohas of Kabir, Guruvani of Ravidas, Akhands of Jotiba, Gathas of Buddha, and people’s songs of Bhim towards people’s revolution for liberty, equality, and fraternity.