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Nirmala Deshpande receives the Padma Vibhushan
Veteran Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande passed away in New Delhi early on Thursday morning. She was 79.
Deshpande, a Rajya Sabha member, had not been keeping well since the past two-three days, and she died in her sleep early today morning, Rajshree, one of her close associates, told PTI.
"Deshpande had returned from Dhanbad on Tuesday and had some gastric problems. She was suffering from fever from last evening," she said.
Family sources said she had died while she was asleep.
Scores of people and political leaders thronged her residence at Shahjahan Road after hearing the news of her death. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Union Minister of State Sriprakash Jaiswal were among the early visitors.
The cremation is likely to take place on Friday morning, after her sister arrives from Pune.
Deshpande is best known for her efforts to promote Gandhian ideology, eschew communal violence and usher in peace between India and Pakistan.
Popularly known as 'Didi' to her followers, 79-year-old Deshpande, clad in white khadi saree, was a familiar figure at functions at institutions connected to the Father of the Nation.
Having taken a vow not to get married, Deshpande dedicated her entire life to the promotion of the work and principles of Gandhi and served the deprived and the downtrodden.
Her tryst with destiny began in 1952, when she joined the Bhoodan Movement and stayed at Acharya Vinoba Bhave's Paunar Ashram at Wardha near Nagpur. She undertook 40,000 kilometers of padyatras, along with Bhave, to carry the message of Gram Swarajya from state to state.
During the historic march, they collected thousands of acres of land donated by those, who believed in Gandhiji's ideals, and distributed it among poor and landless people.
In the eighties and nineties, she was the moving spirit behind various peace marches in Punjab and Kashmir. Her peace mission to Kashmir in 1994 and her initiative to organise The Indo-Pak meet in 1996 were among the major achievements in her decades of public service career.
She was conferred the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award for promoting peace and communal harmony.
A recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, Deshpande had a two-year stint in the Rajya Sabha from 1997 and was nominated for a second time in 2004. She was also nominated for the Nobel peace prize in 2005.
Deshpande, who always wanted to build understanding among Hindus and Muslims, had also worked towards establishing communal harmony after the Gujarat riots.
Deshpande extensively worked for the upliftment of women, tribals and backward classes.
In March 2000, she had gone from Delhi to Lahore [Images] in Pakistan in a bus along with other prominent women, in an effort to establish Indo-Pak peace.
Committed to the cause of Tibet [Images], she had led a satyagraha to the Indo-Tibet border in 1977.
She was also known for her help to Burmese refugees and espoused the cause of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar.
Deshpande, who attended several international conferences in Russia [Images], the United Kingdom, the United States, China, Pakistan, Switzerland [Images], Germany [Images], Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan [Images], Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka [Images], Bangladesh and Brazil [Images], had unveiled a statue of Gandhi in Bali, Indonesia.
A member of several standing committees of Parliament, she headed various organisations and trusts connected to Gandhi.
Born on October 17, 1929 in Nagpur, she authored novels in Hindi, one of which got her a national award.
She also wrote plays, travelogues, a commentary on Isha Upanishad and a biography of Vinoba Bhave.
She had edited Maitri, a journal on service and spirituality, published from the Paunar Ashram founded by Bhave.
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