Salaam, Sharmila Rege!


Sharmila (right) receiving the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award (2006) from Padmini Swaminathan, Director of Madras Institute of Development Studies (Source: The Hindu)

Sharmila Rege passed away yesterday, aged 48, a month after she was diagnosed with cancer. Sharmila described herself as a Phule-Ambedkarite feminist, and was a dear friend to many of us, a political activist of enormous integrity and the moving spirit behind Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre at Pune University. Her scholarship was immense and inspiring, consistently traversing the minefields of caste and gender, constantly complicating one with the other. Writing Caste, Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonios brought together first-person accounts of eight Dalit women from the 1920’s to the present – the voices of Babytai Kamble, Shantabai Kamble, Muktabai Sarvagod, Shantabai Dani, Kumudtai Pawde, Urmila Pawar, Janabai Girhe and Vimaltai More, emerge powerfully and relentlessly in their matter-of-fact assault on caste society’s smugness and violence. Sharmila worked with these ‘testimonios’ (a term she drew from Latina feminism) in a series of’ ‘translations’ – translating from Marathi, translating time and place, translating herself, and encouraging  readers to translate themselves too, in terms of Phule and Ambedkar’s scholarship and politics, to read themselves through the lens of the non-Brahmin and Dalit movements in Maharashtra.

Her last book, published in January this year, Against the Madness of Manu,  brings together Ambedkar’s writings on Brahminical patriarchy, producing Ambedkar’s scholarship as an indispensable, invaluable resource for feminism. Sharmila’s work has opened up the faultlines between caste and gender in ways that are not amenable to easy resolution.

Amazing charismatic Sharmila. What a space she and her friends and colleagues built in Pune, what dedicated teachers, what a wide ranging, lively community they are part of – feminists, queer activists, Phule-Ambedkarites. Sharmila’s presence, we know, will continue to illuminate every class they take, every political campaign they organize, she will live in every student transformed by their practice. A friend, Seema Kulkarni who attended her funeral said that Sharmila was a much loved teacher, and large numbers of her students from different parts of the State studying at the university, were there to pay their last respects.

Colleague Chittibabu Padavala told The Hindu, “She was most tolerant towards students, scholars and research assistants who couldn’t conduct themselves to her extreme and exacting standards. She was as much concerned about the passing of knowledge to the next generations as improving it. In this sense, pedagogy for her was politics itself.

In the poignant words of her friend and fellow traveller PM Lata , “Sharmila will be there always with us through her writings on caste, gender and feminism, and the compassion she has shown for activists and researchers – but deep in our heart, we know now she is no more…”

18 thoughts on “Salaam, Sharmila Rege!”

  1. My daughter was her student and I had the pleasure of meeting her. What a woman she was-a woman of substance!


  2. She will be present always for us and her memory will help us begin anew. The only way to get over grief — but never forget her and what she stood for — is to begin again.

    The Trees

    The trees are coming into leaf
    Like something almost being said;
    The recent buds relax and spread,
    Their greenness is a kind of grief.

    Is it that they are born again
    And we grow old? No, they die too,
    Their yearly trick of looking new
    Is written down in rings of grain.

    Yet still the unresting castles thresh
    In fullgrown thickness every May.
    Last year is dead, they seem to say,
    Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

    Philip Larkin


  3. She always With Us Through Her Work. We Social Sciences Student have Much Learnet From Her. Lots Of Work She has brought From English To Marathi Which Is helpfull To Us>

    Ganesh Pitekar


  4. Sharmila was a friend for almost twenty five years ever since we were together our years as students and researchers in Pune University. I will indeed miss a good friend, an excellent scholar with deep commitment to social justices and politics of emancipation


  5. Some tributes to Sharmila on the Feminists India e-list:

    Vibhuti Patel: Sharmila was an organic intellectual in a Gramscian sense. From 1996-2006, every year I visited SPWS Centre where I had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of contemporary concerns with Sharmila, Anagha, Swati, at times Vidyut as a resource person for their refresher courses and certificate course in women’s studies. I was highly impressed by their sisterhood and cooperative spirit! …Sharmila’s lecture for Savitribai Phule Oration (NCERT) at SNDT Women’s University in a jam packed hall was mind-blowing…

    Ilina Sen: I was travelling to Guwahati for the Indian Association of Women’s Studies EC when I got this shattering news. Sharmila ‘s struggle against entrenched exclusions and patriarchies even in a field like women’s studies saw major achievements. Sadly, she lost this last struggle…We began the EC meeting today with the remembrance of Sharmila.

    Indian Association of Women’s Studies: The members of the Executive Committee of the Indian Association of Women’ Studies, in their meeting held on 14th July 2013 at Guwahati, expressed their condolence on the demise of Sharmila Rege. Sharmila will be remembered for her patience, perseverance, and commitment- – for her quiet energy and for her vision for the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre, University of Pune, which she built into one of the most vibrant and dynamic centres in the country, inspired by ideals of social transformation. 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.”

    Her engagement in dialogues and debates amongst feminists and others, and her painstaking scholarship which provided deep insights into the writings of Dr B.R. Ambedkar and Dalit feminist perspectives will continue to inspire us. We hope and believe that her colleagues, students and friends will find the strength and energy to go ahead along the path that she chose and charted to meet the challenges of the future.

    Suneeta Achyuta (Anveshi, Hyderabad): Just the other day, Shyamala and I were discussing her brilliant argument in the introduction to ‘Against the Madness of Manu’ and she said that she wanted to hug Sharmila for writing it. Our deep condolences for her family and the community that she has built in Pune. And to all those from elsewhere who she had generously included in that politically vibrant community.

    Kavita Krishnan: I never had the privilege of meeting her, but knew in my BA days in Bombay how she touched lives of young women. Parnal Chirmuley, who now teaches in JNU, told me that as a high school (junior college) student in Pune she was pressurised to attend shakhas of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, for which she had some discomfort without exactly knowing why, except just discomfort with the regimentation. She shared it with a senior sociology student who put her in touch with Sharmila, who encouraged her to go to Vidya Bal’s anti dowry demos instead! So she helped a teenage girl have her first brush with the feminist movement…

    K Saradamoni: I can not remember when I first met Sharmila because I met her so many times. But I can remember when I met her last. it was in Wardha where we attended the last IAWS Conference…A couple of weeks back I heard that she was ill. But did not think that ithe end was so near. Dear Sharmila, You are younger than my younger daughter. Your struggles will surely go on. Your dreams will one day come true! REST IN PEACE.

    Soma Marik: We lost today a very important feminist scholar and activist whose contribution towards highlighting the voices of the unheard Dalit women will keep on inspiring us. The battle is on. Sharmila Rege’s Writing Caste/Writing Gender creates a milestone in the approach of looking at history from below subverting the overpowering voices of Brahminical patriarchy.

    Janaki Nair:I heard the news that Sharmila was terminally ill, and now that she has passed away, with deep sorrow. We are losing too many too young. But I am sure she would like to be remembered for her remarkable commitment to students, her incredibly productive life, her great humility and warmth every time we visited Pune, and her lasting contributions to pedagogy more generally. May she rest in peace. She will be sorely missed as a friend a colleague and above all as a teacher.

    Mary John: I am sure that they [the community that Sharmila helped to create in Pune] will take her memory and work forward, as must we all. Yet I also pray that we do not let our work get the better of our bodies and lives. I sometimes feel that feminists may not bedoing enough self care in the midst of everything…In admiration and sorrow…

    Kalpana Kannabiran: The governing body of the Calcutta Research Group paid its deepest respects to Sharmila Rege and spoke of her critical contribution to social sciences a few minutes ago.

    Members present:
    Paula Banerjee, Prasanta Ray, Krishna Banerjee, Partha Chatterjee, Sharit Bhowmik, Sanjay Chaturvedi, Ranabir Samaddar, Sabyasachi Basu Raychaudhuri, Samir Kumar Das, Sibaji Pratim Basu, Kalpana Kannabiran

    I feel devastated by her passing on – deep personal loss…


    1. It’s sad to know that Sharmila is no more, I was planning my visit to Pune, after reading her work on Dalit women’s Testimonios , as Prof. N.Menon has rightly mentioned that her work emerges implacably on society’s cast based violence. She is definitely going to be with us for her work on feminism, cast and gender related problems, done in such a short span.


  6. The Humanities & Social Sciences Department of IIT Bombay are organising a meeting around Sharmila Rege tomorrow, July 17 at around 3 pm.


  7. I am really surprised and shocked to read the news! In November 2011 I met her in Pune in a conference and was hoping to meet her in Kathmandu some time soon. Rest in peace …


  8. उनसे कभी मिलना न हो सका। लेकिन, एक तो स्त्री अध्ययन के अध्ययन-अध्यापन से जुड़े होने के नाते और दूसरा, जाति, जेंडर और वर्ग के बीच की अंतस्संबंधता में रुचि के कारण मेरे लिए उनका विद्वत-कर्म अनिवार्य संदर्भ बिंदु रहा है।
    उनकी सबसे बड़ी खासियत उनका सच्चे अर्थों में आवयविक बुद्धिजीवी होना था, जिसका विभूति जी ने उल्लेख किया है। आवयविक बुद्धिजीवी केवल ज्ञानोत्पादन में रमे रहने से ही संतोष नहीं कर लेता। वह ज्ञान-प्रसार अथवा ज्ञान के जनतांत्रीकरण के लिए बेचैन रहता है। शर्मिला अपने सहयोगियों के साथ मराठी भाषा में स्त्री अध्ययन के अध्ययन-अध्यापन और उत्कृष्ट पाठ्य-सामग्री के निर्माण द्वारा यही करने में जुटी हुई थीं। बतौर अवयविक बुद्धिजीवी वे जानती थीं कि नारीवादी ज्ञानोत्पादन को यदि सार्थक होना है तो उसे अंगरेजी की सीमित दुनिया से बाहर निकल कर सामान्य जनों की भाषा में होना होगा। तभी सहजबोध के अंतर्विरोध दूर किए जा सकेंगे और उसका परिष्कार हो पाएगा।
    वे न केवल हम जैसे लोगों के लिए प्रेरणास्रोत बनी रहेंगी जिन्हें भारतीय भाषाओं में उत्कृष्ट ज्ञानोत्पादन की संभावना में पक्का यकीन है बल्कि उन अंगरेजीवालों के लिए भी प्रोत्साहन का स्रोत बनेंगी जिन्हें भारतीय भाषाओं की जमीन में धूल-ही-धूल नजर आती है।


  9. Still there is a long long way
    Still there is a hope for future
    Still there is a look for past

    Shocking news for all the Dalit women and society. I still remember the day when i went to met Kumud Pawde in her home for my Phd work. There Kumudtai was praising Sharmila madam a lot. That was not the normal praise we get in day to day life. It was actually a expectation for future from past. She describe Sharmila mam through her small small activities which indeed is worth mentioning at that time. Really felt like a vacuum in Maharashtra’s destiny. Future will miss her through writing and take lessons from her deeds.


  10. i met dr. sharmila rege for the first time when she came to madras institute of development studies, chennai to receive the malcolm adiseshiah award in 2006.. sharmila rege was really a gifted academic.. her early demise is an irrecoverable lose to each and everyone of us.. i’m sure, her contribution to gender and dalit studies will last forever.. i take this opportunity to express my deepest condolence to sharmila rege & her family..


  11. शर्मिला की असामयिक मृत्यु स्त्रीवादी सैधान्तिकी में अपूरणीय क्षति है । वर्धा सम्मलेन के दौरान उनसे मेरी पहली और आख़िरी मुलाक़ात हुई थी । हमने उनके रूप में एक असाधारण विदुषी को खो दिया है जिन्होने भारत में स्त्री विमर्श की एक नई सैधान्तिकी की शुरुवात की । महात्मा गांधी अंतरराष्ट्रीय हिन्दी विश्वविद्यालय,वर्धा की तरफ से उन्हें विनम्र श्रधांजली ।


  12. I will miss Sharmila as someone I could brainstorm with, as a fellow-activis and as someone who understood the intersection of caste and gender digging a trench in our brain into which all other inequalities fell. She supported and informed my analysis on sex-trafficking and prostitution in India as being the manifestation of the inequality of caste and gender combined. She understood when I wrote that caste and gender make us think that prostitution is inevitable and women of certain castes are considered to be sexually available by those with wealth and privelege. There is a long road ahead and I wish I had her to walk it with.


  13. I met Dr. Rege last year in Hyderabad University . A lady of indomitable strength.She was indeed very happy to learn about our wsc .During three days of her stay she had almost carved out the vision plan for the wsc in our Tezpur University.She also decided that she would like to come over to Assam and meet a few scholars here too . There were a few suggestions that she had offered . I remember her saying working in wsc is a challenge . It will take time . Don’t lose your patience . Her writings and her activism will be remembered for ever.

    madhurima goswmi


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