A great social activist who did such unparalleled enormous work in his lifetime, which could not be matched by common men even in ten births
Baba Amte established the Anandvan Ashram, bringing happiness into the lives of the lepers. He was born in Hinganghat in Wardha district and named Murlidhar Devidas Amte. He completed his college education in Nagpur acquiring his Bachelor of Arts degree in the year 1934 and Bachelor of Labour Law in 1936. Between 1949 and 1950, he also completed his study on diagnosis of leprosy.
Inspired by Gandhiji’s thoughts while residing in Gandhiji’s Sevagram Ashram, Baba Amte joined the struggle for independence. He was imprisoned for twenty -one days in 1943 for loud public proclamation of Vande Mataram. After independence, along with the work on eradicating leprosy, he also worked through various ways like staging protests and registering his opinions for resolving issues important for the nation. He had the courage to visit Punjab when it was struck by terrorists and reassure the residents of Punjab that the rest of the country was with them. He had discussions with a number of leaders and citizens. He started the Bharat Jodo (Unite India) movement to spread the message of national unity and traversed the entire country to reach this message to every citizen. He camped on the banks of the River Narmada for twelve straight years to support the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement).
With the attitude of facing exigencies head on, he took the challenging oath to serve the people suffering from the terrifying disease of leprosy. From this self-inspiration, he established the Anandvan Ashram in Varora in Chandrapur taluka in 1951. A leper’s life is deadlier than death and scarier than a grave. Baba Amte toiled hard to not only make every leper’s life comfortable through serving and nurturing each one personally, but also to make them independent. His perspective of considering everyone equal found shelter for people of all religions and all strata in his Ashram. Along with lepers, the Ashram also has schools for the blind and the deaf. He established hospitals and other appropriate facilities for the treatment, training and rehabilitation of lepers. he also established a college for the advanced education. He showed the path of financial independence by starting training in handloom, carpentry, iron-smithy etc for the old and the handicapped. He also started agriculture and associated cottage industries like dairy-works, cattle rearing, poultry, sheep rearing etc.
He started the Lok Biradari (People’s Community) project in Hemalkasa in Bhamragad taluka for the development of the tribal community. His son, Dr. Prakash and his daughter-in- law Dr. Manda Amte have been ably managing this project for the last 35 years. Under this project, the tribal people are taught modern techniques of farming. There are numerous other projects functioning successfully at Hemalkasa like schools, an old age home named as Uttarayan, an orphanage for wild animals etc. Both Dr. Prakash and Dr. Manda are tirelessly providing excellent medical and health facilities for the tribal people. All this is functioning from the inspiration generated by Baba Amte.
Baba Amte has been honoured with innumerable national and international awards like Padmashri, PadmaVibhushan, Maharashtra Bhushan, Raman Magsaysay Award, Templeton Award, the International Gandhi Peace Award, J. D. Birla International Award, a Doctorate offered by the Pune University and the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Award. Dr. Prakash and Manda Amte have also been awarded the Raman Magsaysay Award in August 2008. This great unique saint has utilized all the money received through the awards for his services to the society.
The sapling sown by Baba with the support of six lepers, a cash of fourteen rupees, one sick cow and fifty acres of arid land from the Government, has now grown into a massive banyan tree. His wife, Sadhanatai, has contributed equally in this work. Her autobiography Samidha is a window to her discipline, sacrifice and capability in nurturing Baba Amte and his work, as also to Baba Amte’s work.
If Baba Amte were not a social activist, he would have been a excellent and talented litterateur. Despite being relentlessly involved in work, he still has to his credit two collections of poems, Jwala Aani Phule (flames and flowers) and Ujjwal UdyaSathee (for a brighter tomorrow). These poems reveal his literary genius as well as his dedication to social altruism. Baba Amte would say Our work is a poem in action! His creativity imparted an aesthetic quality to his constructive work.
He has made a success of all his endeavours through his endurance, courage, tremendous capacity for physical and mental labour, tremendous tempo of work, an attitude to follow through on decisions, ability and skill of management and administration, and endless inspiration.
This great saintly activist, who took the society’s rejects under his wing to give them a new lease of life, passed away in February 2008. The next generation (Dr. Vikas, Dr. Prakash Amte and their families) is working with the same dedication and consistent zeal on the ongoing projects.