Veteran Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande – India (1929 – 2008)

Veteran Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande passed away in the national capital early on Thursday morning. She was 79 … (New Delhi, May 1, 2008).

Linked with Remembering Nirmala Deshpande: South Asia has lost a great crusader of peace,

She was one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Nirmila Deshpande, a well known peace crusader of India, died on May 1, 2008, after a long period of illness. She was 79-years-old and left behind so many followers who like her, wanted peace. From her early years she was a Gandhian and an enlightened person whose only aim in life was to work for the cause of humanity … Didi will be remembered for her time as a peace crusader in a region which is on the verge of self destruction by racing to acquire nuclear arms over the importance of feeding millions of poverty ridden people (full text).

She said: “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” … (1000peacewomen).

She received the National Communal Harmony Award 2004.


Veteran Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande – India (1929 – 2008)

Her official Website.

Listen her video: Nirmala Deshpande: Limitation, Complexity and Interdependenc, 5 min, June 25, 2007.

She said also: “Gandhi belongs to the world”.

She worked for All-India Harijan Sevak Sangh AIHSS (named on blogs about Harijan Sevak Sangh), for Akhil Bharat Rachanatmak Samaj ABRS, (named on her official website), and for the National Centre for Rural Development NCRD.

She helped also the Association of Peoples of Asia, the Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia WIPSA (scroll down), the Adhyatma Jagaran Manch (named on her website), and the Peoples Integration Council (named on

She was Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) (Nominated twice): First term from 1997-1999, Second term from 2004 onwards. (on her website).


(From 1000peacewomen): Nirmala Deshpande (born on 17 October 1929) was the quiet, reflectiv 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 were her numerous Track II initiatives to establish peace with Pakistan at a people-to-people level. To the many people whose lives she’s touched, Nirmala was known as just didi (elder sister).

She was born to P.Y. Deshpande and Vimlabhai Deshpande in Nagpur, Maharashtra. Her father, a Member of Parliament, brought her up in an open and free environment, encouraging her to take up higher studies. Nirmala did her Masters in political science, and then worked as a lecturer at Morris College, Nagpur.

In 1952, Nirmala joined Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan Yatra (named on The Hindu, May 2, 2008), walking more than 25,000 miles. The movement, which propagated the ideal of a nonviolent revolution, involved activists going to different parts of India asking for gifts of land, which were then distributed to landless agricultural laborers.

Landholders, big and small, gave more than four million acres to the movement. This selflessness, one of the shining victories of Gandhian ideology, is enshrined in the Akhil Bharat Rachanatmak Samaj (ABRS), which Nirmala founded. The Samaj has thousands of dedicated social activists committed to peace and nonviolence working in various states under Nirmala’s leadership.

She was also a pioneer of peace work, especially in terms of mobilizing women and girls to engage in establishing a workable pacifism. In militancy-ridden Punjab in the 1980s, she organized massive peace marches. Peace activists from all over India spread out to every nook and corner of Punjab. Crossing dangerous terrain, Nirmala would travel alone in a jeep all over the state.

During the militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, Nirmala enlisted a few outsiders and many local friends to slog continuously towards peace and communal harmony. When she appealed for the discarding of guns and the adoption of peaceful means, many young men and women, from all communities, joined her movement.

Over the past two decades, communal conflicts and the spread of communal hatred has become ruthlessly rampant, causing the ABRS organized interfaith prayers, meets, and conferences.

Nirmala was also active in the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage: among other things, she organized continuous protest marches in Delhi. Then, she and some friends set up forums to fight communalism and help the embattled secular forces – the Sanjhi Virasat (see a factsheet, a forum of writers and artistes); the Adhyatma Jagaran Manch (named on her website, with Swami Agnivesh and Rev Walson Thampu 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).

Both the ABRS and the Association of Peoples of Asia have been working to bring reconciliation between India and Pakistan. Nirmala organized the Indo-Pak Amity Meet in Delhi in 1996, which was attended by academics, artists, social activists, and journalists from both nations; she led the Indian delegation to Karachi in 1997 for a similar meet. In 1999, she again led the Indian delegation to the Pakistan Peace Conference, organized by the Pakistan Peace Coalition. In 2000, she led a women’s Bus for Peace from Delhi to Lahore. As founder-chairperson of the Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia, she also organized a similar women’s Bus for Peace from Lahore back to Delhi.

Her Indo-Pak Soldiers’ Initiative for Peace in India, and its counterpart in Pakistan (both named on her website) is a strangely emotive initiative. When she led a delegation of the India chapter of the organization to Pakistan in 2001, those who had pitted themselves against each other in three wars embraced and pledged to work for peace. It is not a sight that can leave any eyes dry on the subcontinent.

Nirmala has also worked for the cause of Tibet through friendship associations, led a satyagraha on the Indo-Tibet border in 1997, and organized and participated in conferences, marches, and seminars.

She associated closely with the Dalai Lama. She was also helping Myanmarese refugees, and several people close to Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. She had also attended the Global Assembly of the United Religions Initiative 2002 at Rio de Janeiro (named on United Religions Initiative) as an Indian delegate, and spoke on Gandhi.

At the end, Gandhi’s vision is what her life boiled down to. (1000peacewomen).

… She is the last of the dedicated Gandhians and her loss is mourned by India as a great blow to peace initiatives. Although she is no more I still feel her energy guiding us. Like Gandhi ji and Vinobha ji, she was a woman of action. Her recent favourite phrase was Lage Raho” meaning just keep going! Our best tribute would be to keep her legacy alive by adhering to her vision of positivity and action. May her soul rest in peace … (full text).

Later this week, Ms Deshpande was due to fly to Nepal at the invitation of Maoist leader Prachanda and his other senior colleagues, her personal assistant Shivnath Ram told Dawn. He said there were calls from the office of President Pervez Musharraf, with whom Ms Deshpande had a good rapport, to convey his condolences to the family and friends. She died in her sleep very peacefully, without causing anyone any trouble. That was the way she lived too … (full text).

Find her and her publications on Google Video-search; on Google Book-search; on Google Scholar-search; on Google Group-search; on Google Blog-search.


a video from the World Social Forum, Karachi 2006, 7.52 min., Nirmala Deshpande appears shortly at 4.58 min;

The Village Voice, Issue no. 25;

The Hindu, Sep 22, 2006;

Peace mela‘, November 13, 2004;

The Rajya Sabha / Parliament of India,
(also on wikipedia).

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