Nirmala Deshpande (India)





Nirmala Deshpande was a member of the The Rajya Sabha or Council of States, the upper house of the Parliament of India, when died in her sleep in the early hours of May 1, 2008, in New Delhi at the age of 79. Like her whole life, where she fought for harmony and equality, she decided that even on her death she would send out a message for equality. She had already declared that, in case of her death, the last rites would be performed by a girl from her close associates. It was again a decision of courage and a step to break the boundaries of myths because, in Hinduism, it is rare that the last rites be performed by a girl instead of a boy.
She was an Indian by virtue of citizenship but she was a follower of Gandhian philosophy with the approach that the whole world is one for its people and that there should not be any kind of enmity among the people.


Nirmala is a pioneer of peace work, especially in terms of mobilizing women and girls to engage in establishing pacifism-and the subcontinent is the net gainer.

Nirmala Deshpande (born 1929) is the face of Gandhianism in a world torn apart by strife and communal hatred. A pioneer of peace work, Nirmala has been especially successful in mobilizing women and girls, founding several organizations that function as platforms for people who believe in peace and nonviolence to come together. Also crucial are her numerous Track II initiatives to establish peace with Pakistan at a people-to-people level.

Nirmala Deshpande is the quiet face of Gandhianism in a world bloodied by strife and communal hatred. To the many people whose lives she has touched, Nirmala is known as didi (elder sister). Steadfast in her belief in Gandhianism, Nirmala joined the Bhoodan Yatra in 1952, walking more than 25,000 miles asking for gifts of land to distribute to landless peasants. To enshrine the spirit of the movement, she set up the Akhil Bharat Rachanatmak Samaj, which has thousands of dedicated activists committed to peace and nonviolence. Nirmala is a pioneer of peace work, especially in terms of mobilizing women and girls to engage in establishing pacifism. Her mass mobilizations in Punjab during the 1980s, and in the conflict-ridden state of Jammu and Kashmir, are indicators. During the 2002 Gujarat riots, Nirmala and some friends formed various forums to fight communalism and help secular forces-the Sanjhi Virasat (a forum of writers and artists); the Adhyatma Jagaran Manch (with Swami Agnivesh and Reverend Valson Thampu, the collective voice of the opressed and the poor in India, to use spirituality to counter the misuse of religion); and the Peoples’ Integration Council (to mobilize all sections of society for national integration and communal harmony). Nirmala has also been active in Track II initiatives to bring peace with Pakistan. She organized the Indo-Pak Amity Meet in Delhi in 1996, and a women’s bus for peace from Delhi to Lahore. She also founded the Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia. Her Indo-Pak Soldiers’ Initiative for Peace in India, and its counterpart in Pakistan, is a strangely emotive initiative-those who fought each other in three wars were embracing one another and pledging to work for peace. It is not a sight that can leave any eyes dry on the subcontinent.

All-India Harijan Sevak Sangh (AIHSS) Akhil Bharat Rachanatmak Samaj (ABRS) National Centre for Rural Development (NCRD)

South Asia | India