Baba Amte tends a respectful patient: A superman among social workersThere is no one quite like him. He has given a lifetim
Starting out alone, he has undertaken path-breaking work among the extremely backward Madia-Gond tribals of central India: he has established non-formal schools, hospitals and rudimentary agricultural training facilities to help shield them from the cultural shock caused by the onslaught of civilisation. If the achievements are out of the ordinary, so too is the man behind them.
Murlidhar Devidas Amte, 67, superman among social workers and rural developer extraordinaire, shuns the dogma of religion, refuses to join any political platform, and teaches his leprosy patients to spurn welfare aid: he wants them to produce enough to satisfy all their wants.
No known stereotyped mould can quite suit Amte. While he wears khadi, the hallmark of all social reformers, his reasons are not nationalistic. The khadi, along with slippers made from discarded truck tyres, is a part of his attempt to form an entirely independent community, one which does not rely on the outside world for any of its needs besides sugar and salt.
He dresses, not in the customary dhoti or kurta-pyjama but in a kachha (shorts) and vest. He sports long sideburns, probably a hangover from his student days when, the son of a rich jagirdar, he used to drive to law college in a Singer sports car with leopard skin upholstery.
Personal Supervision: He does not drink or eat meat, but does not object if his sons choose to do so, and has an intense admiration for the hard-drinking, fun-loving, free-sex culture of the Madia-Gonds. He lives with his wife, in a simple cottage at the leprosarium, but boasts about the five-star comforts on his projects, refusing to subject either himself or his men to any unnecessary hardships. And yet, when the need arises, Amte will undertake the bone-rattling journey to his farthest projects without a thought for the weakened spine which has made him, technically at least, a bedridden person.
Today Amte, or Baba as he is popularly called, continues to personally oversee and supervise the sprawling projects started 30 years ago by his Maharogi Sewa Samiti. A programme which started as a small leprosy relief camp with six patients, now has projects spread across Chandrapur, Maharashtra's largest district (25,641 sq km).
Anandwan, which borders Warora, a small town 120 km from Nagpur, has today grown into a 450-acre complex. It encompasses 300 acres of lush farmland, residential accommodation for 1,400 leprosy patients, schools for the blind and handicapped, a 1,300-student college of arts, sciences and commerce, and an agricultural college for 500 students.
Massive Programme: A hundred kilometres from Anandwan, in opposite directions, lie two other projects, Ashokwan and Somnath. The Ashokwan farm, run by 100 cured-or negative-lepers, is a model seed farm which produces agricultural seeds for the state-run seed agency, earning enough to partially subsidise the treatment at Anandwan.
Somnath, on the edge of a reserve forest, was a barren parcel of rock-strewn land 15 years ago. Today 450 negative leprosy patients in six communes have reclaimed 600 of the 1,300 acres of land, and every year another 100 acres are brought under the plough. The 25 family communes are not only independent in their needs but also manage to produce such large surpluses that they support the non-earning projects and hospitals.
Farthest away, at the end of a gruelling 10-hour bus drive from Anandwan, is the Lok Biradari Prakalpa at Hemalkasa, a complex consisting of a general hospital, a 140-student non-formal school and five satellite training centres set in a radius of 30 kilometres.
These aim to teach agricultural methods by demonstration, distribute improved seed varieties to the tribals, and perform the role of primary health centres under the umbrella of the general hospital. With the natural food sources of the Madia-Gonds destroyed following the exploitation of forests by government contractors and paper mills, Amte is determined to help them develop an agricultural economy to prevent large-scale migration to the cities.
Explained Amte: "I had decided, long ago, that I would never turn away any person who came to Anandwan, no matter how crowded we got. And today you can see that we have managed to provide for everybody."
The general hospital at Hemalkasa, run by Amte's younger son. Prakash and his wife, Mandakini both doctors -has treated over 100,000 Madia-Gonds in the seven years since it was set up.
Moreover, complex surgical operations are performed in an area which has no electricity or running water, no telephones, and is cut off from the world for six months every year by the monsoons. The Samiti's projects, between them, produce enough grain and foodstuffs to be virtually independent, though government grants are received for the educational institutions and a portion of the leprosy treatment.
Last year Amte's projects produced 47 tonnes of foodgrains, 55,000 litres of milk, over three tonnes of vegetables and 13,000 eggs. Government grants paid for only 30 per cent of the Rs 50 lakh budget.
Eighty per cent of the grant is used to run the university-affiliated Anand Niketan College of Arts, Science and Commerce and the Anand Niketan Agricultural College. Private donations account for another 6 per cent of the budget, and a medical research grant from Oxfam, a British social welfare group, provided another 4 per cent.
The rest came from production by the patients themselves, something which makes this programme stand out from other social welfare efforts. Explained Amte: "My basic concept is that charity destroys and only work builds a person. These outcast people needed a chance, not charity, and you can see the tremendous use they have made of the opportunity given to them."
Rs 14 in cash, a lame cow and 25 acres of forest land in a stone quarrying area, Amte's fantastic dream was gradually converted into reality through sheer perseverance and an incredible faith in himself.
With only the lepers, his wife and himself to do all the work from forest reclamation to leprosy treatment, it was a battle for survival at first. But soon, the first well was dug, and a year later a pair of ageing bullocks was donated to them. At the end of three years they were self-sufficient, apart from sugar, oil and salt. By then, the numbers had grown: there were 60 patients and six wells.
Anandwan thrived and grew through the '50s and early '60s and the Government donated more land to the Samiti. Trees were felled, rocks uprooted, and lush green fields, which produced three times the local crop yields, appeared.
"But I was determined that Anandwan should be as much like a normal community as possible," says Amte proudly, "and, like any good community, should make a contribution to the outside world."
In 1962, at the time of the Chinese aggression, the lepers staged a drama for local villagers, and raised Rs 2,000 for the National Relief Fund. Two years later, they decided to build a college for the town of Warora. Everything, from brick laying and construction to furniture-making and electricity installation, was done by Anandwan's residents, and most of the Rs 2.5 lakh spent on it came from the farm produce. Says Amte: "The beneficiaries had become the benefactors."
New Targets: By the mid-'60s Anandwan had become a bustling community with cooperative farms, communes and a school for the blind. A workshop for the handicapped included printing presses, a tin can project, carpentry, metal works and a hand-spinning and weaving unit. Ashokwan, too, was a fully-developed cooperative farm and Amte was ready to reach for broader horizons.
He developed a plan for a "workers' university", which would educate students in everything from science and technology to agriculture, personal hygiene and lifestyle. Every student would be given two acres of land to cultivate and experiment with, and would be entitled to the yield from his land, after paying for his board.
"A true teacher is one who lets you hatch your own eggs," he explains. "And with this concept both learning and extension education would be at the same spot. The incentive to study exists because he carries away the produce of his farm, not just a paper degree."
With the blessings of the Planning Commission, Amte was given 2,000 acres of barren forest land in 1966, and Somnath came into being. In the following year, student volunteers from all over India came to help develop it, and 25 acres were brought under the plough. But local politicians had mobilised the population against the project, and claiming the the land rightfully belonged to them, they started a struggle to oust Amte and his men.
Sarvodaya leader Vinoba Bhave was called to arbitrate, and he asked Amte to relinquish 700 acres of land, along with all rights to the natural irrigation from streams and springs. Without irrigation, Amte's dream was shattered, but he proceeded to build a model farm on the land that remained.
The Somnath farm produces yields which are five times higher than those of local farms. An extension campus of the Punjabrao Krishi Vidyapeeth, which borders it, is barren and dry by comparison. Says Amte of the Somnath success: "We have no secretary, no executives, no graduate agronomists to help us make a profit. Why then are the Government farms, which have all these, losing money?"
While the earnings of Somnath and Amte's other projects are used to subsidise non-earning units, every person on the communes is allowed to earn a small sum. Kitchen gardens, fruit trees, and small herds of goats and sheep are maintained by community members and the produce from these is treated as a personal income.
Over 600 patients in Anandwan, and several more in the outlying projects, maintain post office savings accounts and regularly despatch money to their relatives. Cackles Amte gleefully: "These men who were cast out of their homes now send back money. And when they go home for a holiday they are received like kings." Deoman, whose disease was arrested so late that his hands and feet were reduced to stumps, runs Anandwan's dairy and flour mill, since "his administrative abilities are still first class".
Babu Shiwde, a tailor who became incapable of using a sewing machine, has nevertheless trained 25 men to stitch all the clothes for the residents. Says Shiwde proudly: "My hands may be useless but I do more important work here than I did as a tailor in the outside world, and I am respected for it."
Stressing Culture: In 1973, Amte embarked on yet another ambitious programme: the education and uplift of central India's Madia-Gonds. who were just emerging from the stone age. Building a small thatched hut in the heart of Madia territory in Hemalkasa, he spent a year among the tribals he had first seen when he ran away from home at the age of 14. The next year his son and daughter-in-law, both of whom had recently qualified from Nagpur Medical College, took over from him. They treated the diseased, dispensed medicine, and started a small demonstration farm on the land around the hut.
Cut off from Anandwan and the world for half the year by floods, they nevertheless managed to build, among other things, a general hospital which treats 2,500 Madias a month. The school and satellite centres are manned by lepers and Madias. Amte's latest project at Hemalkasa is a residential school for tribals which will house 140 boys and girls. "My aim is to offer them an education that will make them proud of their culture," he says. "You can't impose your textbooks and modern educational techniques on them. These people should grow up proud of their grandfather's culture, not shunning it."
But the constant physical work, coupled with crippling jeep rides between Anandwan, Somnath and Hemalkasa, finally began to take their toll on Amte's health. By 1971 two of his vertebrae had to be replaced by animal bone after he developed cervical spondylitis from the jarring drives over dirt tracks and untarred roads.
Seven years later five of his lower vertebrae had given way, and had to be partially removed in a complex spinal operation. Amte has since been unable to sit up for any length of time, and can only stand or lie down.
And it is his work that has earned him the undying loyalty of the outcast and mutilated "human ruins" whom he has helped to regain confidence and self-respect. In the colonies he has meticulously built, Amte is revered and respected, though he makes it clear that he will not allow a gulf to develop between his patients and himself.
At Anandwan, former patients stroll into the small cottage he shares with his wife, Sadhanatai, squat on his bed, and discuss problems of administration. Although accused by many of being an autocrat and of running his projects dictatorially, Amte displays a sense of fellowship and equality with the inmates that is nothing short of remarkable.
On arriving at any project he is invariably greeted by a crowd of residents. Unfailingly, he goes round the group, meeting each person, asking after his health, the progress of his assigned work, and any problems that he may have.
Government Indifference: There have been, however, sounds of disapproval from World Health Organisation (WHO) officials who question the validity of segregating and colonising leprosy patients in an age when the disease is wholly curable and no different, in principle, from other communicable diseases like tuberculosis and cholera.
Says Dr K..K. Koticha, director of the Acworth Leprosy Hospital in Bombay: "Amte's admirable work can never be questioned, but today it is increasingly felt that the concept of segregation only perpetuates the myths and misconceptions about leprosy. It would be ideal if every patient is kept in his own social and economic environment and given regular treatment like for every other disease."
In the outside world Amte's efforts have not gone unnoticed, though he maintains such a low profile that the national press has taken little notice of his efforts. Dr M.S. Swaminathan, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, has repeatedly lauded his role in the country's development, but little has been done about using his agro-economic models on a larger scale.
His projects have been visited, the models studied and praised, but governmental follow-up on these visits remains pathetically slow. "There are too many paper pregnancies in India," said Amte bitterly.
Mahatma Gandhi once called him the "abhaya sadhak", or fearless seeker, but there is little trace on the records of either his search or its findings. Finally, in 1971, he was awarded the Padma Shri after which the Government, feeling its duty was done, buried his name somewhere in the files of the Health or Agriculture ministries.
But a string of private trusts took over where the Government left off, and Amte was awarded the FIE Foundation Rs 1 lakh award in 1978, the Jamnalal Bajaj Award in 1979, and last year the Nagpur University made him an honorary Doctor of Letters.
Foreign Recognition: Characteristically, Amte and his work have been far better received abroad than in his own country. Lady Barbara Ward Jackson, an economist who specialises in Third World problems, recommended his name for the Nobel Prize. In a letter to Mrs Gandhi, Jackson called him "a most remarkable Indian" and a "saint". Given the Rs 1 lakh Nehru Award for her contribution to development earlier this year, she donated the entire sum to Amte.
His name came up for the International Monetary Fund's Paul Hoffman Award for Innovative Development, but again, with no governmental backing, he was dropped from the lists. Belatedly, the Films Division is now planning a documentary on his work.
Amte, notwithstanding his claim that he abhors personal publicity, has been lionised through the printed word in the West. The Unbeaten Track, a book by Count Arthur Tarnovski about men involved in path-breaking work around the world, and Turner's More Than Conquerors contain glowing eulogies on the man and his achievements.
But Amte is probably best summed up in the words of Robert Hart, the author of a treatise on forest farming: "Baba Amte must be one of the most remarkable men in the world, and his achievements are far more significant than those of any political leader today."
Baba Amte in 2005
|Born||(1914-12-26)26 December 1914|
Hinganghat, Wardha, British India (present-day Maharashtra, India)
|Died||9 February 2008(2008-02-09) (aged 93)|
Anandwan, Maharashtra, India
|Children||Dr. Vikas Amte|
Dr. Prakash Amte
|Awards||Padma Shri, 1971|
Ramon Magsaysay Award, 1985
Padma Vibhushan, 1986
United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights,1988
Gandhi Peace Prize, 1999
Templeton Award, 1990
|Website||No website at present|
Murlidhar Devidas Amte, popularly 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 empoverment of poor people suffering from leprosy. He and his wife, Sadhna Amte, had started an organization for the leprosy patients Anandwan in 1950. This pioneering work was started as an arogya. [A] He has received many awards and prizes including Padma Vibhushan, the Gandhi Peace Prize, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Templeton Prize and the Jamnalal Bajaj Award.
Baba Amte was born to Mr. Devidas Amte and Mrs. Laxmibai Amte in the city of Hinganghat in Wardha District of Maharashtra on 26 December 1914. It was a wealthy family. His father was a British government officer 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."
He was among eight no 7 children of his father. As the eldest son of a wealthy land owner, Murlidhar had an idyllic childhood. 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. He never appreciated the restrictions that prevented him from playing with the 'low-caste' servants' children. "There is a certain callousness in families like my family." he used 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 lewdly taunting her, Gandhi gave him the name – Abhay Sadhak (Fearless Seeker of Truth).
In those days, leprosy was associated with social stigma and the society disowned people suffering from leprosy. 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 [[ashram]]s 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 notably the Knit India movement for public awareness of the importance of ecological balance, wildlife preservation, and the Narmada Bachao Andolan. He Was Awarded With Padma Shri by government of India in year 1971.
Dedicated works of family members
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 job 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 and is recognised around the world. Amte later founded "Somnath" and "Ashokwan" ashrams for 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, 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 due to the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river.
- Citation: "In electing MURLIDHAR DEVIDAS AMTE to receive the 1985 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his work-oriented rehabilitation of Indian leprosy patients and other handicapped outcasts."
- Padma Vibhushan, 1986
- United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights,1988
- Gandhi Peace Prize, 1999
- Rashtriya Bhushan, 1978: FIE Foundation Ichalkaranji (INDIA)
- Jamnalal Bajaj Award, 1979 for Constructive Work
- N.D. Diwan Award, 1980: National Society for Equal Opportunities for the 'Handicapped' (NASEOH), Bombay
- Ramshastri Award, 1983: Ramshastri Prabhune Foundation, Maharashtra, India
- Indira Gandhi Memorial Award, 1985: Government of Madhya Pradesh for outstanding social service
- Raja Ram Mohan Roy Award, 1986: Delhi
- Fr. Maschio Platinum Jubilee Award, 1987: Bombay
- G.D. Birla International Award, 1988: For outstanding contribution to humanism
- Templeton Prize, 1990 [Baba Amte and Charles Birch (Emeritus professor of University of Sydney)were jointly awarded the prize in 1990]
- Mahadeo Balwant Natu Puraskar, 1991, Pune, Maharashtra
- Adivasi Sewak Award, 1991, Government of Maharashtra
- Kusumagraj Puraskar, 1991
- Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Dalit Mitra Award, 1992, Government of Maharashtra
- Shri Nemichand Shrishrimal Award, 1994
- Fr. Tong Memorial Award, 1995, Voluntary Health Association of India
- Kushta Mitra Puraskar, 1995: Vidarbha Maharogi Sewa Mandal, Amravati, Maharashtra
- Bhai Kanhaiya Award, 1997: Sri Guru Harkrishan Education Trust, Bhatinda, Punjab
- Manav Sewa Award, 1997: Young Men's Gandhian Association, Rajkot, Gujarat
- Sarthi Award, 1997, Nagpur, Maharashtra
- Mahatma Gandhi Charitable Trust Award, 1997, Nagpur, Maharashtra
- Gruhini Sakhi Sachiv Puraskar, 1997, Gadima Pratishthan, Maharashtra
- Kumar Gandharva Puraskar, 1998
- Apang Mitra Puraskar, 1998, Helpers of the Handicapped, Kolhapur, Maharashtra
- Bhagwan Mahaveer Award, 1998, Chennai
- Diwaliben Mohanlal Mehta Award, 1998, Mumbai
- Justice K. S. Hegde Foundation Award, 1998, Karnataka
- Baya Karve Award, 1998, Pune, Maharashtra
- Savitribai Phule Award, 1998, Government of Maharashtra
- Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Award, 1988: FICCI, for outstanding achievements in training and placement of disabled persons
- Satpaul Mittal Award, 1998, Nehru Sidhant Kendra Trust, Ludhiana, Punjab
- Adivasi Sevak Puraskar, 1998, Government of Maharashtra
- Gandhi Peace Prize, 1999
- Dr. Ambedkar International Award for Social Change, 1999, "in recognition of outstanding work done in pursuing the cause of the exploited and the underprivileged, reconciling differences among conflicting social groups and contributing significantly to social change"
- Maharashtra Bhushan Award, 2004, Government of Maharashtra
- Bharathvasa award, 2008
- 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 oilcan 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 took up leprosy work not to help anyone, but to overcome that fear in my life. That it worked out good for others was a by-product. But the fact is I did it to overcome fear."
- ^Arogya is a Sanskrit word that means "overall well-being" and "health of mind, body and spirit." Generally speaking, it means living a healthy life without disease and having complete health in mind and body. Arogya can be used to refer to a wide range of topics, including yoga asana, Ayurveda, meditation, pranayama, japa mantra and much more.