Sharmila Rege (1964 – 2013): A tribute

Sharmila Rege

Sharmila Rege, an extremely popular teacher and warm fellow traveler in the women’s studies movement, will always be with us through her writings on caste, gender and feminism and compassion she has shown for activists and researchers

By Vibhuti Patel

I was shocked and saddened to learn about the untimely death of Sharmila rege, on 13 July, 2013, due to cancer of colon, at the young age of 48. Prof. Sharmila Rege was an Indian sociologist, feminist scholar and widely discussed author. She was a leader of the Kranti Jyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre (KJSPWSC) at University of Pune who fought for her ideological commitment for the excluded and brutalized sections of society. She was not only a good scholar but also a refined human being.

I was amazed when Prof. Sharmila Rege, Head of Department of Sociology decided to join as Director and Reader, Centre for Women’s Studies. In a hierarchical institution such as university, a scholar established in the mainstream discipline switching for ‘lower’ position without batting an eyelid showed her commitment towards women’s studies in 2007. Under her leadership, KSPWSC became an intellectually vibrant centre providing platform to academicians, retired scholars, free lance researchers, social activists and feminists.

I had opportunity to meet Sharmila for 10 years continuously, from 1996 to 2006 when I was invited by her centre for lectures on gender budgeting, globalisation, sex selection and declining sex ratio and sexual harassment at workplace for Refreshers Courses/Certificate course in Women’s studies. I was impressed by the atmosphere of nurturance, voluntarism and cooperation created by Sharmila even in the midst of tremendous financial crunch experienced by the centre in that period.

Sharmila, as a social activist, feminist scholar and social analyst, challenged the brahminical patriarchy from ‘Dalit Standpoint’. In 2008, her inspiring and insightful Savitribai Phule Oration on ‘Education as Trutiya Ratna: Towards Phule-Ambedkarite Feminist Pedagogical Practice’ sponsored by NCERT in a jam packed hall at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai was mind-blowing. The audience, whether agreed with her or not, listened to her with rapt attention and many of them gave her standing ovation.

She could convincingly explain women’s predicament determined by complex interplay of class, caste, religion and sexuality with the help of historical evidences, contemporary concerns of dalit-tribal-minority women and queer community. Sharmila practiced what she preached within the academia and from the political platforms. She fought for the right of the Dalit students in her university. She legitimized crucial contribution of Dr. Ambedkar in examining Indian civilization from the point of view of the oppressed and exploited sections i.e. shudra and ati-shudra. She brought to the fore knowledge of the ‘subjugated’ and challenged the dominant Brahminical discourse.

She left a lasting impression on any one who met her. She had a huge fan following among post graduate, M. Phil. and Ph. D. students. How can anyone forget the courteous, mild mannered and soft spoken Sharmila who was patient with her students, who gave quality time to her non-English speaking students, who with great perseverance brought out important works of women’s studies in Marathi in collaboration with her colleagues-Prof. Vidyut Bhagwat, Dr. Anagha Tambe, Dr. Swati Dehadroy and Dr. Sneha Gole. Their commitment and strategic thinking for KSPWSC put their centre on the national map. Every year we displayed their yellow poster announcing the MA and certificate course in women’s studies. No one would remove the poster due to Savitribai’s photograph on it. The KSPWS team played crucial role in Indian Association of Women’s Studies and edited its newsletter during the millennium years.

Sharmila’s book, Writing Caste, Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonies published by Zubaan, Delhi in 2006 had a massive ripple effect among sociologists, political scientists, women’s studies and Dalit studies scholars. In the same year, Sharmila received the Malcolm Adiseshiah award for “sharpening the perspective on caste and gender by examining the differences and the connections of power that existed between women while also recognising what connected them as women.”

Sharmila Rege’s articles, ‘More than Just Tacking Women on to the ‘Macropicture’, Review of Women’s Studies, EPW, Vol – XXXVIII No. 43, October 25, 2003; ‘Real Feminism’ and Dalit Women’, EPW, Vol – XXXV No. 06, February 05, 2000; ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently-A Critique of Difference and Towards a Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position’, Special Issue, EPW, Vol. XXXIII No. 44, October 31, 1998 and ‘Writing Caste, Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonies’ must be translated in all regional languages of India.

Sharmila’s death is a major blow to the women’s studies and dalit studies movements. Her concerns were encapsulated in the quotation from Dr Ambedkar that invariably accompanied her emails:
“My final words of advice to you are educate, agitate and organize; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side, I do not see how we can lose our battle.”

Vibhuti Patel is active in the women’s movement in India since 1972. Currently she is teaching at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.

9 comments

  1. Ujvala Rajadhyaksha says:

    I was so shocked and saddened to hear about Sharmila’s demise. I had occasion to meet Sharmila a few times through a colleague at IITB many years ago as well as meet her at the women’s studies center at Pune when she invited me to give a talk there. I was struck by her warmth and humility and was impressed by her commitment to her work. Even after I moved out of India I continued to follow her work and was thinking of resuming contact with her. Not more than two weeks ago, I had suggested her name for a funded project that required partners in India because I could think of no one more honest and competent in the area of work that she excelled in. What a loss. May she rest in peace.

  2. Dr. Kochurani Abraham says:

    Thanks Vibhuti for your tribute to Sharmila Rege. This helps us her friends and companions in the feminist movement to take forward that she was committed to with greater vigor.
    kochurani

  3. Sandhya Rege Nadkarni says:

    Dear Vibhuti,
    Thank you for the lovely article about my sister, Sharmila.She never bragged !So I am learning about so many of her contributions through articles like yours.
    Also reading the comments about carrying her work forward are so comforting- I know Shami would be so happy about that. Because for her, it was all about the cause.
    Thanks again,
    Sandhya

    • Bipin Vengsarkar says:

      hi Sandhya,
      Remember having met at Kolhapur many, many years (> 35 yrs) back.
      Too shocked to learn. Sent our condolences to Shekhar.
      Pl see my comments.
      Would u like to throw some light?
      Kind rgds,
      Bipin.

  4. Namitha A Kumar says:

    Very profound tribute. A blow to dalit feminist scholarship but as Kochurani has pointed out the dalit feminist movement will be carried forward by committed individuals.

    So rare to meet academicians like Sharmila who moved beyond hierarchies! Truly an amazing professor!

  5. Dr K K Vishwakarma says:

    (Late)Prof Rege was really a wonderful teacher and an activist for deprived and marginalized class. She was above caste, class, community and religion. May God bless her soul to rest in peace.
    Dr. K. K. Vishwakarma
    Editor: Literary Perspectives,
    Lucknow (UP)

  6. Today, we had a nice memorial meeting for Prof. Sharmila Rege. Tributes and Messages from Indian Association of Women’s Studies, Prof. Maithreyi Krishnaraj, Prof. Bhalchadra Mungekar, Prof. Vimal Thorat, Dr. Lency Lobo, Prof. Rohit Barot were read out. Prof. Veena Poonacha shared her memoir of Sharmila as a colleague in women’s studies and gave a detailed account of Sharmila’s path-breaking contribution. Prof. Chhaya Datar and Prof. Surendra Jondhale admired Sahrmila’s efforts for publication of 30 books in Marathi on crucial themes for women’s studies scholarship. Dr. Ramesh Kamble described Sharmila as a critical social theorist. Dr. Abhinaya Kamble narrated intellectual journey of Sharmila and her arrival at Dalit standpoint theory. Dr. Nandita Shah noted Sharmila’s sharpness on epostemology of women’s movement and her compassionate nature, Dr. Chaitra Redkar (Political Science) and Dr. Jaswandi Wamburkar(History) talked aboutintellectual nurturance they gor from Sahrmila as students of Pune University.Shiraz Bulsara from Kashtakari Sangathna shared her experiences with Sharmila as an activistof Kashtakari Sangathana. Dr. Nandita Gandhi talked about intersectionality in Sahrmila’s contribution-socialogist and activist, gender and caste.Dr. Veena Devasthali found quite firmness, intense intellectual and passionate thinker in Sahrmila. Dalit activist Shambhaji Bhagat gave a moving account of his association with Sharmila as an intellectual, activist and teacher of subaltern history and siad that Sharmila was beyond labels such as Marxist/liberal/feminist. The meeting ended with Shambhaji Bhagat singing two of Sharmila’s favourite songs -Manus Marla (They killed a human being)and Bhimraja (Dr. B. R. Ambedkar). Shamila’s photograph and flowers in front of her photographs were smiling…..

  7. Feminist Kolaveri on Declining Sex Ratio –
    Lyrics by Sharmila Rege, Sneha Gole & Sugeeta Roy Choudhury

    Yo people We are singing song,
    Hard-hit song, Hit-Hard song
    Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di ?
    Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di
    Message correct Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di ?
    Sex Ratio up please Why this Kolaveri (…..) – haan
    Di Boy on moon moon-u Girl out of sight-u
    Pa pa pa pein pa pa pa pein pa pa pein pa pa pein
    Everywhere baba!
    Stop the killing Let girls live
    Slogans will not work
    Change structures Come together,
    Ratio will change gear
    Sathi sathi O my sathi
    Show to me how, Low how,
    why now Ratio should change ?
    how-u Friend, no girl is dying now,
    She is happy wow-u
    This song for girls n boys
    We have a choice Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di ?

  8. Bipin Vengsarkar says:

    Having read the various tributes n homages paid by distinguished scholars in the field on the stellar achievements of Dr. Sharmila, its really amazing n intriguing to understand how she chose to pursue the cause of gender/caste disparity coming from her family background n social milieu which were poles apart.
    Maybe her sister Sandhya or brother Shekhar can throw some light.
    Kudos to Sharmila on her seminal work and for the recognition that she got in such a short time.
    There is no doubt her soul rests in peace n she continues on a newer journey for the upliftment of the under-peivileged.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Anti-Spam Quiz: