On 26th December 1914, in the city of Hinganghat in Maharashtra, Murlidhar Devidas Amte, affectionately known as Baba Amte, was born into an affluent Deshastha Brahmin family. Little did anyone know that this child would grow up to be an iconic figure in the realm of social work, recognised for his unwavering commitment to the welfare and dignity of those who were marginalised and suffering.
Baba Amte's early life was one of privilege and luxury. As the eldest son of a wealthy landowner, he enjoyed an idyllic childhood filled with hunting and sports. Yet, even in his youth, he was acutely aware of the stark class inequalities that plagued Indian society. His family's callousness towards the suffering beyond their own walls troubled him deeply. He once remarked, "There is a certain callousness in families like my family. They put up strong barriers so as to avoid seeing the misery in the outside world, and I rebelled against it."
Amte's journey took a transformative turn when he ventured into the legal field, establishing a successful law practice in Wardha. However, his calling extended far beyond the courtroom. In 1942, he took on the role of a defence lawyer for Indian leaders imprisoned during the Quit India movement, marking the beginning of his involvement in India's struggle for independence.
Amte's time at Sevagram, Mahatma Gandhi's ashram, had a profound impact on his life. He not only embraced Gandhian principles but also wholeheartedly adopted the spartan way of life advocated by the Mahatma. Amte practised Gandhism through actions like yarn spinning with a charkha and wearing khadi clothing. His commitment to non-violence and simplicity earned him the name "Abhay Sadhak" or the "Fearless Seeker of Truth" from Mahatma Gandhi.
One defining moment in Baba Amte's life was a chance encounter with a leprosy patient named Tulshiram, which filled him with fear. This experience led him to a new mission: to challenge the deeply entrenched social stigma associated with leprosy and change the perception that it was highly contagious. In an audacious experiment, he even injected himself with bacilli from a leprosy patient to prove that the disease was not as contagious as believed.
Amte's dedication to the welfare of leprosy patients and his fearless advocacy led to the founding of Anandvan, a leprosy hospital, under a tree on 15th August 1949. Here, leprosy patients were provided not only with medical care but also the opportunity to lead lives of dignity, engaging in agriculture and various small and medium industries. He understood that true rehabilitation required not only medical treatment but also mainstreaming these individuals into society.
His tireless efforts dispelled misconceptions about leprosy and inspired others to join his mission. He established two more ashrams, "Somnath" and "Ashokwan," to provide care and rehabilitation to leprosy patients, disabled individuals, and marginalised sections of society.
Baba Amte's commitment extended to various social causes, including ecological balance, wildlife preservation, and the Narmada Bachao Andolan, where he lived by the Narmada River to protest against the displacement of local inhabitants and environmental damage due to the Sardar Sarovar dam construction.
His life's work earned him numerous accolades, including the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Templeton Prize, and the Gandhi Peace Prize. He received the title "Abhayasadhak" from Mahatma Gandhi himself, signifying his fearlessness and dedication to the cause.
Baba Amte continued his work until his last breath. On 9th February 2008, he passed away at Anandwan, leaving a legacy of fearlessness and compassion. In choosing to be buried rather than cremated, he upheld his principles as an environmentalist and social reformer.
Baba Amte's commitment to humanitarian causes extended to his family. His wife, Sadhanatai Amte, shared his dedication to social work. Their two sons, Vikas Amte and Prakash Amte, along with their wives, have continued the legacy of service. They established hospitals, schools for the blind and deaf, orphanages, and institutions that cater to the needs of marginalised communities. Prakash and his wife Mandakini even run a hospital and school in the underprivileged district of Gadchiroli, serving the Madia Gond tribe and injured wild animals.
On 26th December 2018, Google commemorated Baba Amte's 104th birthday with a Google Doodle, a testament to the enduring impact of his life and work.
Baba Amte's life was a testament to the transformative power of compassion, fearlessness, and unwavering commitment to social justice. He showed the world that one person's dedication and action can bring about profound change, and his legacy continues to inspire generations to make the world a better place through love, service, and selflessness.