Baba Amte on a 2014 stamp of India
|Born||26 December 1914|
|Died||9 February 2008 (aged 93)|
Anandwan, Maharashtra, India
|Awards||Padma Shri, 1971|
Ramon Magsaysay Award, 1985
Padma Vibhushan, 1986
United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights,1988
Dr. Ambedkar International Award (1999),
Gandhi Peace Prize, 1999
Templeton Prize, 1990
Murlidhar Devidas Amte, commonly known as Baba Amte, (26 December 1914 – 9 February 2008) was an Indian social worker and social activist known particularly for his work for the rehabilitation and empowerment of people suffering from leprosy. He has received numerous awards and prizes including the Padma Vibhushan, the Dr. Ambedkar International Award, the Gandhi Peace Prize, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Templeton Prize and the Jamnalal Bajaj Award.
Murlidhar Devidas "Baba" Amte was born on 26 December 1914 in the city of Hinganghat in the Wardha District of Maharashtra. His father, Devidas Amte, was a British government officer working for the district administration and revenue collection departments. Murlidhar Amte acquired the nickname Baba in his childhood. His wife, Sadhanatai Amte, explains that he came to be known as Baba not because "he was regarded as a saint or a holy person, but because his parents addressed him by that name."
Amte was the eldest of eight children. As the eldest son of a wealthy land owner, he had an idyllic childhood, filled with hunting and sports. By the time he was fourteen, he owned his own gun and hunted boar and deer. When he was old enough to drive, he was given a Singer Sports car with cushions covered with panther skin. Though he was born in a wealthy family he was always aware of the class inequality that prevailed in Indian society. "There is a certain callousness in families like my family," he used to say. "They put up strong barriers so as to avoid seeing the misery in the outside world and I rebelled against it."
Trained in law, he developed a successful legal practice in Wardha. He soon became involved in the Indian struggle for freedom from the British Raj and, in 1942, began working as a defense lawyer for Indian leaders imprisoned by the British during the Quit India movement. He spent some time at Sevagram, at the ashram started by Mahatma Gandhi and became a follower of Gandhism. He practiced Gandhism by engaging in yarn spinning using a charkha and wearing khadi. When Gandhi got to know that Dr. Amte had saved a girl from the lewd taunts of British soldiers, Gandhi gave him the name – Abhay Sadhak (Fearless Seeker of Truth).
In those days, people with leprosy suffered a social stigma and the society disowned these people. Amte strove to dispel the widespread belief that leprosy was highly contagious; he even allowed bacilli from a leper to be injected into him as part of an experiment aimed at proving that leprosy was not highly contagious.
Amte founded three ashrams for treatment and rehabilitation of leprosy patients, disabled people and people from marginalised sections of the society in Maharashtra. On 15 August 1949, he and his wife Sadhna Amte started a leprosy hospital in Anandvan under a tree. In 1973, Amte founded the Lok Biradari Prakalp to work for the Madia Gond tribal people of Gadchiroli District.
Amte devoted his life to many other social causes, most notably the Quit India movement to raise public awareness on the importance of ecological balance, wildlife preservation and the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Government of India awarded Baba Amte with a Padma Shri in 1971.
Amte married Indu Ghuleshastri (later called Sadhanatai Amte). She participated in her husband's social work with equal dedication. Their two sons, Vikas Amte and Prakash Amte, and daughters-in-law, Mandakini and Bharati, are doctors. All four dedicated their lives to social work and causes similar to those of the senior Amte. 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, including a lion and some leopards. She left her governmental medical and moved to Hemalkasa to start the projects after they married. Their two sons, Dr. Digant and Aniket also dedicated their lives to the same causes. In 2008, Prakash and Mandakini received the Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.
Amte's elder son Vikas and his wife Bharati run the hospital at Anandwan and co-ordinate operations with satellite projects. Anandwan 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 people suffering from leprosy.
Amte followed Gandhi's way of life and led a spartan life. He wore khadi clothes made from the looms at Anandwan. He believed in Gandhi's concept of a self-sufficient village industry that empowers seemingly helpless people, and successfully brought his ideas into practice at Anandwan. Using non-violent means, he played an important role in the struggle for the independence of India. Amte also used Gandhi's principles to fight against corruption, mismanagement, and poor, shortsighted planning in the government. However, Amte never disowned God. He used to say that if there are hundred thousands of universes then God must be very busy. Let us do our work on our own.
In 1990, Amte left Anandwan for a while to live along the Narmada River and joined Narmada Bachao Andolan ("Save Narmada") movement one of whose popular leaders was Medha Patkar, which fought against both unjust displacement of local inhabitants and damage to the environment due to the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river.
Amte died at Anandwan on 9 February 2008 in Maharashtra of age-related illnesses.
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