Dr. Murlidhar Devidas Amte affectionately known as Baba Amte, was an Indian social worker & social activist. He used to work for the rehabilitation and empowerment of poor people suffering from leprosy. He is the only non-medical person in the entire world who has received maximum awards related to the medical field.
Early Life & Background
Baba Amte was born as Murlidhar Amte on 26th December 1914 in the city of Hinganghat in Wardha District, Maharashtra. His father Devidas Amte was a British official of administration and revenue collection and mother Laxmibai Amte was a housewife. He was the eldest son of the family. Amte in his childhood itself acquired his nickname ‘Baba’ by his parents.
Baba Amte had a special interest in cinema and thus, started writing reviews for the film magazine ‘Picturegoer’. He even corresponded with actress Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer. Since his childhood, Baba Amte was against the discrimination between rich & poor.
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.
Baba Amte completed his legal practice at Wardha. Soon he contributed in India’s freedom struggle by being a defense lawyer for the leaders of the Indian freedom movement to whom British authorities had imprisoned in 1942 Quit India Movement. He was sentenced to jail for for twenty -one days in 1943 for loud public proclamation of Vande Mataram.
Baba Amte spent some time with Mahatma Gandhi at his Sevagram ashram and became his follower for rest of his life. He started to work on Gandhi’s principals of Gandhism. 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. He also used his principles to fight against corruption, mismanagement and shortsighted planning in the government. He used Gandhi’s non-violence tactics to fight against the Indian government.
During 1949, Amte studied the diagnosis of leprosy. In the early days of leprosy, society disowned people suffering from leprosy. It was also believe that leprosy was a contagious disease. Amte stood up for leprosy affected people and proved in front of people that leprosy was not contagious. He established the ‘Anandvan Ashram’ in Varora in Chandrapur taluka in 1951. 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. However, Anandwan was registered in 1951 and more land was given by the government. Two Hospitals, University, Orphanage and School for the blind were added subsequently in Anandvan. The ashram is now a self sufficient unit and more than 5,000 people are dependent on it for their livelihood. Later, Amte formed two more ashrams ‘Somnath’ & ‘Ashokwan’ for the treatment & rehabilitation of leprosy patients, disabled people and people from marginalized sections of the society in Maharashtra. He also established hospitals and other appropriate facilities for the treatment, training and rehabilitation of lepers.
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. When Punjab was attacked by terrorists, he reassured the residents of Punjab that the rest of the country was with them. 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.
In 1973, he founded the Lok Biradari Prakalp for the development of Madia Gond tribal people in the district of Maharashtra. He taught them modern techniques of farmning. He also formed schools and old age home ‘Uttarayan’ at Hemalkasa. He devoted his life in social activities like generating public awareness of importance of ecological balance, wildlife preservation and Narmada Bachao Andolan. 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.
In 1946, Baba Amte got married to Sadhana Ghule and she also actively participated in her husband’s social work. Even his sons & daughter in laws were active his Amte’s social work.
His son Dr. Prakash Amte started a school & hospital, especially for Madia Gond tribal people at Hemalkasa village in the district of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra. After his marriage with Dr. Mandakini Amte, she left his governmental medical job and joined Prakash Amte in his work in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra. She along with her husband Prakash started an orphanage for injured wild animals, including lions and leopards. Even their sons Digant, a doctor & Aniket, an engineer have also helped their parents in social work. In 2008, Prakash and Mandakini were given the Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.
On the other hand, Amte’s elder son Vikas Amte & his wife Bharati Amte run a hospital at Anandwan and even coordinate operations between Anandwan and satellite projects.
Today, Anandwan also has a university, an orphanage and schools for the blind and deaf. Anandwan ashram has over 5,000 residents.
In 1990, Amte left Anandwan for a while to live along the Narmada River and join Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andolan. The Andolan was against the unjust displacement of local inhabitants and damage to the environment on account of the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada River. About 2,500 villagers and supporters join Baba Amte for this campaign.
Baba Amte has been honored a number of 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.
On 18th December 1946, Baba Amte got married to Sadhana Ghule, popularly known as Sadhnatai. After her marriage, even Sadhana actively participated in the social work with Baba Amte. They had two sons Dr. Vikas Amte, who got married to Dr. Bharti and Dr. Prakash Amte, who got married to Dr. Mandakini. His both the sons and daughter-in-laws are also the social activist and runs Amte’s hospital, schools and orphanage.
In 2007, Baba Amte was diagnosed with leukemia. After a year, Baba Amte died at his ashram Anandvan on 9 February, 2008. Many renowned faces from across the world expressed condolences at the death of the great soul. Amte’s death body was buried and not cremated.
On 9th July 2011, Sadhana Amte died due to old age.
Baba Amte has been honored with four prestigious awards like Padma Shree in 1971, Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1985, Padma Vibhushan in 1986, Gandhi Peace Prize in 1999 and by the Government of India.
He has also received other awards like:
Rashtriya Bhushan in 1978
Jamnalal Bajaj Award in 1979
Ramshastri Award in 1983
Indira Gandhi Memorial Award in 1985
Raja Ram Mohan Roy Award in 1986
G.D. Birla International Award in 1988
Templeton Prize in 1990
Mahadeo Balwant Natu Puraskar in 1991
Adivasi Sewak Award in 1991 & 1999
Kusumagraj Puraskar in 1991
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Dalit Mitra Award in 1992
Fr. Tong Memorial Award in 1995
Bhai Kanhaiya Award in 1997
Manav Sewa Award in 1997
Mahatma Gandhi Charitable Trust Award in 1997
Kumar Gandharva Puraskar in 1998
Apang Mitra Puraskar in 1998
Justice K.S. Hegde Award in 1998
Savitribai Phule Award in 1998
Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Award in 1998
Dr. Ambedkar International Award for Social Change in 1999
Maharashtra Bhushan Award in 2004
Bharathvasa Award in 2008