Murlidhar Devidas Amte, who was known as Baba Amte, was one of the most eminent Indian social worker and social activist. He gained worldwide admiration for service towards the rehabilitation of poor suffering from leprosy. He, with his wife Sadhna Amte, started an organization for the leprosy patients Anandwan in 1950. He has received worldwide recognition and prizes for his work including the highest civilian awards by the Government of India the Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan; as well as the Gandhi Peace Prize, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Templeton Prize, the Jamnalal Bajaj Award, and many more.
Baba Amte was born on 26 December 1914, to Devidas Amte and Laxmibai Amte at Hinganghat, in Wardha District of Maharashtra, India.
His father was a British government officer. Baba Amte was called Baba, when he was a child. Baba is an endearing term for rich kids. When he was 14, he already had his own gun and hunted wild animals. Later he was gifted a Singer Sports car with cushions covered with panther skin. He grew up in a very pampered and lavish atmosphere.
After doing his BA LLB, he had a successful law practice at Wardha. The Indian Freedom struggle and the Quit India movement of 1942 also influenced him and he began taking up cases of freedom fighters as a defence attorney.
He visited Sevagram ashram of Mahatma Gandhi and became a life-long follower. He began spinning cotton yarn with a charkha and accepted Khadi in his life. Gandhi conferred him the name – Abhay Sadhak meaning Fearless Seeker, when he learned about his exploits in getting justice for the needy.
Dedicated Social Service for Leprosy-victims
At that time leprosy had lots of stigma and lepers were avoided and disowned by the society. It was also considered as a highly contagious disease.
Amte strove for the treatment and rehabilitation of leprosy patients, disabled and people from marginalized sections. On 15 August 1949, he founded a hospital in Anandvan and in 1973, founded the Lok Biradari Prakalp to work for the Madia Gond tribal people of Gadchiroli District.
Baba Amte devoted his life to these and other social causes. He was instrumental in the Knit India movement generating awareness on the importance of ecological balance, wildlife preservation, and the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
In 1971, he was awarded the Padma Shri award, and Padma Vibhushan in 1986 by the Government of India.
In 1946, Baba Amte married Indu Ghule Shastri, later called Sadhana Tai Amte. She participated in the social service with equal dedication. They have two sons, Vikas and Prakashl both are doctors and married to Bharati and Mandakini, both doctors. They are also dedicated to similar causes.
Amte’s elder son Vikas and his wife Bharati run the hospital at Anandwan. It has a university, an orphanage, and schools for the blind and the deaf. The Anandwan ashram is self-sufficient and has over 5,000 residents. Amte later founded “Somnath” and “Ashokwan” ashrams for leprosy.
Prakash and his wife Mandakini run a school and a hospital at Hemalkasa village in the underprivileged district of Gadchiroli in Maharashtra among the Madia Gond tribe, as well as an orphanage for injured wild animals. In 2008, the couple received the Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.
On 9th Feb. 2008, Baba Amte passed away in the wee hours of the morning, in the Anandwan ashram. He was 94.
Baba Amte received a number of awards and accolades for his noble work. A few of them are listed below:
- Padma Shri, 1971
- Ramon Magsaysay Award, 1985
- Padma Vibhushan, 1986
- United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights, 1988
- Gandhi Peace Prize, 1999
- Dr. Ambedkar International Award for Social Change, 1999
- Bharathvasa Award, 2008
- Jamnalal Bajaj Award, 1979 for Constructive Work
- G.D. Birla International Award, 1988: For outstanding contribution to Humanism
- Templeton Prize, 1990
- Krishi Ratna, 1981
He received D.Litt. from many universities and institutes. Some of them are; Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai; Nagpur University, Nagpur; Pune University, Pune; Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal; PKV Agricultural University, Akola, Maharashtra.
Quotes by Baba Amte
“When you give roses to others, the perfume is bound to linger on your hands!”
“Only a full stomach can afford to be principled.”
“Happiness dies when it is not shared.”
“The condition of the tribals is worse than those inflicted with leprosy. Purna swaraj can only be possible when the poorest of the poor is uplifted.”
“A man can live without fingers, but he cannot live without self-respect…. That is why I took up leprosy work. Not to help anyone but to overcome that fear in my life. That it worked out good for others is a byproduct. But the fact is I did it to overcome fear.”
“I don’t want to be a great leader; I want to be a man who goes around with a little oil can and when he sees a breakdown and offers his help. To me, the man who does that is greater than any holy man in saffron-colored robes. The mechanic with the oilcan: that is my ideal in life.”
Amte followed the Gandhian way of life and wore khadi clothes made from the looms at Anandwan. He also believed in Gandhi’s concept of a self-sufficient village industry that empowers seemingly helpless people, which is reflected at Anandwan. Amte followed Gandhian principles to fight against corruption, mismanagement, and shortsighted government planning. The only area where he differed from Gandhi was, Amte was an atheist. The work of Baba Amte is being done by his children, grand-children and the next generations. Millions of Indians owe their life, livelihood and happiness to him.
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah