Baba Amte was an Indian social worker who dedicated his life to the noble cause of social service, particularly to make life better for the sufferers of leprosy. When he first witnessed the misery and ostracization faced by leprosy patients, his conscience was shaken and he was determined to do something to empower these people. He founded several ashrams and hospitals for these patients. Born into a wealthy family, he lived an enviable life. As a youngster he owned a gun and loved hunting! An avid movie fan, he corresponded with the likes of Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo. But as he matured with age he realized that there was too much injustice and suffering around him. This made him ditch his luxurious life and dedicate himself to the cause of betterment of the world. Fortunately, he met a kindred spirit in Sadhana who shared his passion for social work and he married her. He was a Gandhian and lived a very austere life. A firm believer in the virtue of hard work, he encouraged the leprosy patients to be self-sufficient and worked for their rehabilitation. He also spread awareness about ecological balance and wildlife preservation.
Childhood & Early Life
- He was born as Muralidhar Amte to Devidas Amte and his wife Laxmibai in Wardha district. His father was a British government official and his family was very wealthy and prosperous. “Baba” was his childhood nickname.
- He enjoyed an idyllic childhood and even possessed his own gun by the time he was a teenager! He loved hunting and watching movies. In fact, he even wrote reviews for a film magazine and communicated with actresses like Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer.
- When he attained the age of driving, his father gave him a Singer sportscar. He was living such a luxurious life as a youngster!
- After receiving legal education, Baba set up a successful law practice in Wardha. At that time, the Indian Nationalist movement was in full swing and he too joined the freedom struggle.
- He became a defense lawyer for the freedom fighters who were imprisoned by the British authorities during the 1942 Quit India Movement.
- As a freedom fighter he became acquainted with Mahatma Gandhi and spent some time at the seva gram ashram. Impressed by Gandhi’s principles he became his follower and started wearing khadi.
- It was around this period that he became aware of the miseries leprosy patients were subjected too. People believed that leprosy was contagious and thus the patients were treated as outcasts and ostracized.
- Wanting to do something to not just help leprosy patients, but to enable them to live a life of self-respect and dignity, he founded the Anandwan Ashram in 1948.
- Anandwan is a community rehabilitation centre for leprosy patients where they learn how to be self-sufficient through hard work. The ashram is equipped with schools, hospitals and community centers for recreation.
- Baba Amte’s motto was “Work Builds; Charity Destroys” and thus he encouraged all the inmates of Anandwan to live with self respect and dignity and contribute towards the community life by doing whatever work they can do.
- By opening schools, a University, and training centers in Anandwan, he provided ample opportunities for the children and youngsters to get an education, learn new skills and become self dependent and stand on their own feet.
- He always emphasized on the interdependence of human beings on each other and on the natural world. That is the philosophy that binds Anandwan where everyone has a role to play in the community be it cooking community meals, mentoring children, taking care of infants, or planting trees.
- He also established Gokul and Uttarayan which are homes for children and senior citizens respectively. In Gokul, 60 children who are either orphan or children of leprosy patients are provided food, accommodation, clothes and other basic facilities.
- He created Sukh Sadan meaning “The House of Happiness” for rehabilitated leprosy patients where people form “social family” wherein two couples commit to care for an elderly couple. The elderly couple also helps by taking care of the children of the younger couple and by providing them advice.
- He was an environmentalist who believed that humans have to live in harmony with nature, and not by exploiting nature. He motivated people to adopt a model of sustainable development that would be beneficial for both mankind and nature.
- Baba Amte, a great believer in national unity, organized two Bharat Jodo—Knit India Movements—one from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in 1985 and the other from Assam to Gujarat in 1988. He aimed to promote peaceful co-existence among people and nature.
- During the 1990s he joined Medha Patkar in the Narmada Bachao Andolan which was a social movement undertaken to stop the building of Sardar Sarovar Dam across the Narmada river.
Awards & Achievements
- He established the Anandwan ashram, a community rehabilitation center for leprosy patients and disabled people. It is a self-sufficient community primarily dependent on agriculture where everyone learns a skill and earns their livelihood through hard work.
Personal Life & Legacy
- He was given the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1985 in recognition of his selfless service to the people.
- He received a number of awards from the Government of India, the highest of them being the Padma Vibhushan in 1986. He used to give all the proceeds from his awards to Anandwan.
- In 1946 Baba attended a function where he saw a girl who left the festivities to help an old maid with her chores. He decided that this was the kind of a life partner he wanted, and thus he married the girl, Sadhana. The couple had two sons and was happily married till the end.
- His two sons and their wives are all medical doctors and they too have dedicated their lives to social service taking forward the legacy of Baba Amte.
- He lived a long life spent mostly in making lives better for the diseased and downtrodden. He died in 2008 at the age of 94.