Her ‘Mission Kashmir’ remains incomplete (Remembering Nirmala Deshpande)

May 1st, 2008 - 5:47 pm ICT by admin  

By Sarwar Kashani
Srinagar, May 1 (IANS) To end the miseries of Kashmiris torn between two guns, “dialogue is the only way out”, said peace builder Nirmala Deshpande during her visit to the valley some three years ago. Didi, as she was popularly known as, had a great desire to see peace return to the Kashmir Valley. Today, when she has left the world, her ‘Mission Kashmir’ remains unaccomplished, if not abolished.

In the difficult days of militancy, Deshpande managed to organise peace workshops at a time when talking peace spelt trouble.

She entrusted a few outsiders and many local friends with the task of working for peace and maintaining communal harmony in a state, where thousands have been killed in the bloody separatist conflict since 1989.

Abhorring violence in any form, the prophet of peace also made frequent appeals to militant groups in Kashmir to throw away the gun and adopt the path of peace.

A Gandhian to the core, Deshpande was a frequent visitor to the trouble torn valley, talking to people irrespective of their political lineage and meeting all kinds of people, particularly women.

From mainstream politicians to separatists, from former militant leaders to army officers, this frail looking soldier of peace spared no effort to propagate non-violence.

During her visit to Srinagar in August 2005, I happened to meet her at a function in the Government College of Education where she began her speech with a message of peace.

“Peace means that all the ticklish problems are to be solved and Kashmir is a problem that needs to be resolved. That is why I told the people here to take recourse to dialogue. There is no other way.”

I wondered whether her philosophy of bringing peace the Gandhian way would be acceptable to Kashmiris, who have long felt oppressed and suffocated.

At the end of the event, I walked up to her and asked the same question.

“Violence,” she said, “cannot be used as a means to resolve any dispute - howsoever genuine the cause may be.”

“Dialogue is the only way,” the Gandhian activist added. “Don’t you wish to live in peace? There is a peace in mind and there is another peace in graveyards,” she said and asked, “Which one do you want?”

I remained quiet and my silence provoked her.

“The desire for peace was obvious among the people of Kashmir. I found that people are yearning for peace and they are supporting the process. Because they understand what peace means for them.”

“We have seen wars in the past which only brought miseries. Enough for us to learn that all issues (between India and Pakistan), including Kashmir, should be resolved through a sustained dialogue process.

“I am sure with the urge for peace gaining ground both the guns have to fall silent.”

A large number of young men and women joined her movement in the valley and today one can find people almost everywhere in Jammu and Kashmir committed to Gandhi and peace - Deshpande gets a lot of the credit.

(Sarwar Kashani can be contact s.kashani@ians.in)

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