Farewell to an eminent Gandhian, a gentleman

Onkar Chand dedicated 70 years of his life to reach out to people in need of help in various forms. He joined the Servants of the People Society as life member at an early age in 1959 to serve the masses.

Pramod Sharma

With the sad demise of Onkar Chand, 91 chairman of Servants of the People’s Society on Wednesday, the city has lost an eminent Gandhian activist, a formidable intellectual, and a dedicated social worker who lived the motto of service before self.

Grand old man of the ‘Chipko movement’, Padma Vibhushan Sunderlal Bahuguna, spoke for many when, reacting to Onkar Chand ji’s death, he said, “Our country has lost a man who always stood for selfless service and probity in public life.’’ Bahuguna and Onkar Chand ji had a long association that went back to the days of Bhoodan movement (Land Gift Movement), a voluntary land reform movement in India, initiated by Acharya Vinoba Bhave in the late 1950s. Both had participated enthusiastically in it.

Almost all city residents are familiar with Lajpat Rai Bhawan run by Servants of the People Society which was formed by Lala Lajpat Rai, in Lahore in 1921 to “enlist and train national missionaries for the service of the motherland”. Presently besides its historic Dwarka Das Library (post-Partition restoration of its original in Lahore), the senior citizens centre, its health dispensaries, the Society is running various social welfare projects and programmes in urban, rural and slum areas of the city.

Onkar Chand dedicated 70 years of his life to reach out to people in need of help in various forms. He joined the Servants of the People Society as life member at an early age in 1959 to serve the masses. Lala Lajpat Rai was his role model because of his intellect, moral conviction and activism.

As years passed by, Onkar Chand ji also had a brief brush with politics when he successfully represented the Chintpurni constituency of Himachal Pradesh as an MLA in 1972. But when Emergency was declared in 1975, he was among those who revolted and gave up active politics to serve the people at grassroot level. Later, he settled at Chandigarh to carry forward the ideals of Lala Lajpat Rai.

In the words of eminent Gandhian scholar and founder of several educational institutions, Dr N Radhakrishnan, “The demise of Pandit Onkar Chand creates yet another void in our public life. Throughout his life he upheld the values and perspectives given by Gandhiji, brave freedom fighters and great patriots of India. He was a genuine bridge between two generations of India. Onkar Chandji’s contribution to post-independence India to strengthen the cultural mosaic and the pluralistic fibre of Indian nation will be long remembered.”

Mourning this loss, Dr Manohar Lal Sharma, former Chairman of Department of Gandhian & Peace Studies at Panjab University, said, “For me, he was a guiding force. We are deeply saddened to hear this shocking news and our thoughts are with Onkar Chand’s family, friends and colleagues at this devastating time”. Educationist Dr AC Vaid, advisor at Rayat Bahra University, said, “We have lost a man of wisdom with great humility who had immense depth in his thoughts.’’

Onkar Chand ji and his wife, who passed away last year, kept an open house and happily shared all they had with anyone who knocked at their door. Many a city youngster learnt the habit of charity by interacting with them. A thorough gentleman, the kinds they don’t make any longer, Onkar Chand ji would never stand judgement on anyone, no matter how young, inexperienced or brash. Youngsters were drawn to his immeasurable warmth and keen intellect. In turn, he would humour them by saying, “Who am I to say anything? It’s a different world with its attendant challenges, how can I foist my opinion on you?’’ For many, just being in his company itself was a lesson in human goodness and generosity of spirit.

Onkar Chand will always be remembered for promoting humanism, Gandhian, and secular values among the people, especially the youngsters, the generation next.

I consider myself fortunate to have had the privilege of learning from him. We will miss you dearly, Sir.

(The writer is coordinator of a social welfare organisation called Yuvsatta – Youth for Peace)

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