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Nirmala Deshpande was a peace worker and Gandhian. She was born to Vimala and Purushottam Yashawant Deshpande of Nagpur. Her father was a noted Marathi writer who won a Sahitya Akademi Award for his book Anamikachi Chintanika in 1962. Her mother translated Jiddu Krishnamurty’s Commentaries on Life into Marathi. Nirmala joined Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement in 1952, undertaking a 40,000-km journey on foot across India to carry the message of Gram Swaraj or village autonomy to every corner of rural India. She also organized peace marches in Punjab and Kashmir in 1994 when the violence was at its peak in those states. She organized the India-Pakistan meet in 1996. When the Christian missionary Graham Staines was burnt to death by Hindu fundamentalists in 1999, she organized a protest march in Orissa. The Tibetan cause was also close to her heart. In 2006, she pleaded for clemency for Afzal Guru, accused of a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament which killed thirteen people. Just a few months before her death she declared herself a ‘friend’ of Maoists.

She wrote several novels in Hindi, including Seemanta and Chimlig, some plays, and travelogues. She also wrote a commentary on the Isha Upanishad and a biography of Vinoba Bhave. She was a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha from 1997 to 2007. She was considered for the position of President in 2007, but lost out to Pratibha Patil. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 and received the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award and the Padma Vibhushan in 2006. With her short bespectacled figure and violently hennaed hair, she was a distinctive character. She was regarded so highly on both sides of the border that inter-faith prayers for her were offered in India and Pakistan at her death. Her ashes were immersed in the Indus at the Sadhu Bela temple in Sindh.
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