12-year-old girl lights Deshpande’s pyre, honours last wish

May 2nd, 2008 - 6:56 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, May 2 (IANS) A 12-year old girl Friday performed the last rites of Nirmala Deshpande, honouring the wishes of the noted Gandhian who died Thursday. Dignitaries from across India and abroad paid their last respects to Deshpande amid the chanting of Vedic hymns and religious renditions. “It was my dadi’s (grandmother) wish that I should light her pyre. She used to love me so much,” Sambhavi Mishra, whom Deshpande had adopted, told IANS.

“It is a big loss to me,” said Sambhavi, a Class 5 student at St. Mary’s School in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh.

Deshpande, one of India’s last Gandhians whose life was devoted to the cause of the poor and downtrodden, died in her sleep here Thursday morning. She was 79.

The cremation, conducted at Lodhi Road crematorium, was attended by top Indian leaders cutting across party lines, dignitaries from India and abroad, NGO volunteers and many of Deshpande’s admirers, colleagues and friends.

Congress general secretary and MP Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister for Food Processing Industries Subodh Kant Sahai, and Minister for Steel, Fertilisers and Chemicals Ram Vilas Paswan were among those who paid their tributes.

“Her commitment to the cause of Gandhian values was unquestionable. She never compromised with her mission of life that was to uplift the poor and women. She has left behind a vacuum that will never be filled,” Paswan said.

Vice-President Hamid Ansari and his visiting Iranian counterpart Esfandiar Rahim Mashaee were also present at the ceremony.

“She was the most effective and visible representative of Gandhian ethos and values. She is no more but her efforts to spread the message of Mahatma Gandhi and empower women will keep the people around the world inspiring for years to come,” Ansari said.

According to her colleagues, the fact that Deshpande wanted a girl to perform her last rites was testimony to her dedication to women’s rights.

“She used to tell us that women could do what even men cannot. There should be no discrimination on the basis on gender. If a son can perform his father’s last rites, then why not a daughter, was what she often told us,” said Shiv Nath, an associate of Deshpande for 30 years.

Deshpande was a familiar figure who accompanied visiting presidents, prime ministers and other dignitaries at Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial Raj Ghat.

A Rajya Sabha member, she kept a busy schedule in her last few days too. She was in Bihar last week to meet fellow Gandhians and returned early this week. Deshpande, who was popularly known as Didi, also went to parliament a day earlier and interacted with fellow parliamentarians and friends.

The foreign dignitaries who paid homage to Deshpande included Pakistan’s Information and Broadcasting Minister Sherry Rehman and representatives from various embassies and high commissions located in the city.

Minister for Rural Development Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said that Deshpande was the epitome of sacrifice who dedicated her life to ameliorating the woes of downtrodden.

“Nirmala Deshpande is no more, but her teachings will forever reverberate in our minds,” Singh said.

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