26 December 1914|
Hinganghat, British India (present-day Maharashtra, India)
|Died||9 February 2008
Anandwan, Maharashtra, India
|Children||Dr. Vikas Amte
Dr. Prakash Amte
Murlidhar Devidas Amte popularly known as Baba Amte, was an Indian social worker and social activist known particularly for his work for the rehabilitation and empowerment of poor people suffering from leprosy.
Baba Amte was born to Mr. Devidas and Mrs. Laxmibai Amte in the city of Hinganghat in Wardha District of Maharashtra. It was a wealthy family. His father was a British government official with responsibilities for district administration and revenue collection. Murlidhar had acquired his nickname Baba in his childhood.
He came to be known as Baba not because "he was a saint or any such thing, but because his parents addressed him by that name."
As the eldest son of a wealthy landowner, Murlidhar had an idyllic childhood. By the time he was fourteen, he owned his own gun and hunted boar and deer. He developed a special interest in cinema, wrote reviews for the film magazine the Picturegoer and even corresponded with Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer. Norma Shearer became one of his first foreign donors when he began working with leprosy patients. When he was old enough to drive, he was given a Singer sportscar with cushions covered with panther skin. He never appreciated the restrictions that prevented him from playing with the 'low-caste' servants' children. "There is a certain callousness in families like mine." he use to say. "They put up strong barriers so as not to see the misery in the world outside and I rebelled against it. "
Trained in law, he developed a successful legal practice at Wardha. He soon got involved in the Indian struggle for freedom from the British Raj, and started acting as a defence lawyer for leaders of the Indian freedom movement whom the British authorities had imprisoned in the 1942 Quit India movement. He spent some time at Sevagram ashram of Mahatma Gandhi, and became a follower of Gandhism for the rest of his life. He followed Gandhism, including yarn spinning using a charkha and wearing khadi. When Gandhi got to know that he has saved a girl from British soldiers who were trying to rape her, Gandhi gave him the name – Abhay Sadhak (Fearless Follower).
In those days, leprosy was associated with social stigma and the society disowned people suffering from leprosy. There was also a widespread misbelief that leprosy was contagious. Amte strove to dispel the misbelief and once allowed bacilli from a leprosy patient to be injected into him while participating in an experimental test aimed at proving that leprosy was not contagious.
Amte founded three ashrams for treatment and rehabilitation of leprosy patients, disabled people, and people from marginalised sections of the society in Maharashtra, India. On 15 August 1949, he started a 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, the most notable among which were generating public awareness towards importance of ecological balance, wildlife preservation, and the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
Dedicated work of family members
Amte married Indu Ghule (Sadhana Amte). She actively participated in her husband's social work with equal dedication. Their two sons, Dr. Vikas Amte and Dr. Prakash Amte, and two daughters-in-law, Dr. Mandakini and Dr. Bharati, are all doctors. All four have dedicated their lives to social work and causes similar to those of the senior Amte.
Son Dr. Prakash Amte and his wife Dr. Mandakini Amte run a school and a hospital at Hemalkasa village in the underprivileged district of Gadchiroli in Maharashtra where people belonging to the "Madia Gond" tribe. After marrying Prakash Amte, Mandakini Amte left her governmental medical job and moved to Hemalkasa to eventually start a hospital, a school, and an orphanage for injured wild animals, including a lion and some leopards. Their two sons, Digant, a doctor, and Aniket, an engineer, have also dedicated their lives to the same causes as their parents. In 2008, Prakash and Mandakini were given the Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.
Today, Anandwan and Hemalkasa village have one hospital, each. Anandwan has a university, an orphanage, and schools for the blind and the deaf. Currently, the self-sufficient Anandwan ashram has over 5,000 residents. The community development project at Anandwan in Maharashtra is recognised around the world. Besides Anandwan, Amte later founded "Somnath" and "Ashokwan" ashrams for treating leprosy patients.
Amte followed Gandhi's way of living and taru, 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.
Amte also used Gandhian principles to fight against corruption, mismanagement, and poor, shortsighted planning in the government. Thus, he used non-violent means to fight the Indian government in the fight of independence.
In spite of his emulation of social and political work, unlike Gandhi, Amte was an atheist.
Narmada Bachao Andolan with Medha Patkar
In 1990, Amte left Anandwan for a while to live along the Narmada River and join Medha Patkar's Narmada Bachao Andolan ("Save Narmada" Movement), which fought against both unjust displacement of local inhabitants and damage to the environment on account of the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river.
Awards from the Government of India
- D.Litt., Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India
- D.Litt., 1980: Nagpur University, Nagpur, India
- Krishi Ratna, 1981: Hon. Doctorate, PKV Agricultural University, Akola, Maharashtra, India
- D.Litt., 1985–86: Pune University, Pune, India
- Desikottama, 1988: Hon. Doctorate, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal, India
- Gandhi had conferred on Amte the title Abhayasadhak ("A Fearless Aspirant") for his fight against the British for India's freedom.
- "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, offers his help. To me, the man who does that is greater than any holy man in saffron-coloured robes. The mechanic with the oilcan: that is my ideal in life." (Self-description given to British journalist Graham Turner)
- "I am leaving to live along the Narmada. Narmada will linger on the lips of the nation as a symbol of all struggles against social injustice." (About going to the Narmada valley to support Narmada Bachao Andolan)
- "One can live without fingers, but not self-respect."
- "The air is not thin yet, so keep climbing." AG
- "भिती असते तिथे प्रीति नसते" (Where there is fear, there is no love)
- "India daily obituary".
- Students' Britannica India. Popular Prakashan. 2000. p. 62. ISBN 0-85229-760-2.
- "BIOGRAPHY of Murlidhar Devidas Amte".
- "Collector office chandrapur -Maharashtra Bhushan Baba Amte".
- "An interview with Baba Amte".
- Wisdom song: My Mother's Madness
- (as explained by his wife Sadhanatai Amte)
- "Amte: The last follower of Mahatma Gandhi".
- "Social workers Drs. Prakash and Manda Amte inspire listeners at Asha NYC/NJ".
- "Dr Prakash and Dr Mandatai Amte – The Spirit of Mastek Award".
- "Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation: Awardees".
- "Maharogi Sewa Samiti".
- "Baba Amte: The Gandhi after that Gandhi".
- "Baba Amte Obituary: The Economist". 28 February 2008.
- "Right Livelihood Award: 1991 – Medha Patkar &Baba Amte / Narmada Bachao Andolan".
- President Pratibha Patil, Manmohan Singh condole Baba Amte's death – Yahoo! India News
- Microsoft Word – year-wise 07.rtf
- "Jamnalal Bajaj Awards Archive". Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation.
- "The Miracle Worker".
- "Award for Baba Amte, Mashelkar". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 1 May 2005.
- "The various awards that Baba Amte won in his lifetime".