Miracle worker and messiah of the leprosy suffering people, tribesmen and the downtrodden, Murlidhar Devidas Amte has left behind a legacy of selfless compassion unparalleled in modern times.
Except for the Nobel Prize, Baba Amte was awarded with all major awards nationally and internationally. He was conferred with the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Padma Shri Award, Padma Vibhushan, Templeton Prize, Gandhi Peace Prize among many others for humanitarian and environmental causes.
Withdrawing to Anandwan Ashram in Maharashtram, an institution that he founded in 1948, he had the sole purpose of working for rehabilitation and empowerment of people suffering from leprosy.
Started with only Rs. 14 and six lepers to look after, today it is spread over sprawling 250 acres of land donated by the government on which this self sustaining charitable institute generates a turnover of over Rs 20 crore annually.
The over 5,000 residents at Anandwan Ashram are people who at one time suffered from leprosy or were considered untouchables for other reasons.
Cured of leprosy and self sufficient, they help out with upkeep and maintenance of Anandwan, producing nearly everything except salt, sugar & kerosene.
Baba’s family of three generations is engaged in the Ashram’s work with equal devotion and dedication.
Many may know about Baba Amte but here are a few lesser known facts about this great humanitarian.
1. `Baba` was not a sagely title but his childhood name.
Most consider that the Baba is a popular title that the thousands of people he helped conferred on him for his saintly deeds, but actually it was his childhood nickname. By his deeds he grew in stature to be a true Baba.
2. He was a qualified Barrister from England.
Born in a wealthy Brahmin family, Baba Amte was used to all luxuries of life. After studying law in England, he returned to India and set up a flourishing practice.
3. He was a Freedom Fighter.
Inspired by the National Movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, he gave up a successful legal practice to participate in the 1942 Quit India Movement, for which he was even imprisoned.
4. He disowned his paternal property.
Material wealth could not bind Baba Amte aspirations and ambitions for long. He surrendered all family wealth and took it upon himself to emancipate leprosy patients, an objective that he pursued single-mindedly till the end.
5. Baba Amte was an atheist.
A firm believer in equality, Baba Amte was firmly against any kind of rituals and did not worship any God. Working with the downtrodden was worship for him.
6. Baba Amte was considered as the last true follower of Mahatma Gandhi.
Mahatma Gandhi’s concern for lepers was well known as he nursed many at his Wardha Ashram.
A firm believer in Gandhian values and concepts about self-sufficient villages, Amte successfully implemented those ideals to fruition at Anandwan. Converted for life, he only wore khadi spun at the Anandwan looms throughout his life.
7. He defied ill health by undertaking a countrywide unity march for ‘Bharat Jodo Abhiyan’.
To apprise a wayward youth about nationalism, to counter communalism, to sensitize them about equality and for eradication of social stigmas, Baba Amte in 1985 undertook a unity march from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. On the route he fell ill but the march did not stop. Lying down in a bus, his determination saw to it that the march was completed.
Another such march was undertaken by him in 1988 from Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh, with main motive of reinstating peace and generating environmental awareness among masses.
8. Abhay Sahadak – Fearless truth seeker.
It was the title Mahatma Gandhi conferred on Baba Amte after he confronted British soldiers who were lewdly taunting a girl and saved her from them.
Later in life, he even got the leprosy bacilli injected into him for research, truly justifying the title that Gandhi had bestowed on him.
9. He set up Maharogi Sewa Samiti (MSS) in 1948.
Started with meager funds, this trust that oversees all Anandwan projects was set up solely for betterment of maha rogis (lepers, untouchables, dalits).
The largest donor of the trust is Swiss Aid with Nouvelle Planete (Switzerland based) even organizing tours of European students to Anandwan for community building projects.
10. Married the simple Sadhna Amte (Sadhnatai) for her touching humanity.
As a young man Baba Amte was a very eligible bachelor but a girl that he spotted leaving a wedding party to help an old servant caught his fancy. Soon after, he asked her parents for her hand and married her in 1946.
Sadhna Amte measure up to him in all his social endeavors. Aged 95, she died in 2011.
11. He was at the forefront during the ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’.
To identify with the tribesman settlements threatened by submergence by Narmada Dam waters, Baba Amte chose to live with them. He built and lived at Nijiwad ashram in Kasrawad on the banks of Narmada, fighting against the displacement of thousands of tribal people.
He also believed that the construction of Sardar Sarovar dam on the river would have adverse effects on the environment and so vehemently opposed it.
12. He is admired by His holiness – The Dalai Lama.
Dalai Lama was an ardent admirer of Baba Amte, who went on to describe his lifework as ‘practical compassion, real transformation and proper way to develop India’.
13. All awards proceeds were spent on Anandwan welfare projects.
Lifetime earnings from the awards conferred on Baba Amte amounted to about Rs 1.5 crore and all this amount was spent on Anandwan, with the great man not using any of it for his personal means.
14. The will to serve children of the lesser God kept him going.
Baba Amte early in life was diagnosed with progressive spinal degeneration, a crippling disease that left him with options of either remaining standing or lying down. He underwent two major surgeries to plant pacemakers for keeping his heart going. None of it could defy his indomitable spirit and he continued in his crusades despite all odds.
Succumbing to cancer, he breathed his last in Anandwan on 9 February, 2008, leaving behind a legacy of 93 years which can be retold time and again with deep respect and reverence.