Sunday, February 10, 2008

Eminent social worker Murlidhar Devidas Amte, popularly known as Baba Amte, died on Saturday at his Anandvan ashram in Warora. He was 94 years old.

The world-renowned leprosy worker had been suffering from blood cancer since the last six months and was being kept on life support system. He died at 4.15 am, his son Vikas said.

Baba Amte is survived by his wife Sadhana and sons Vikas and Prakash. His funeral will be held Sunday.

Baba had earlier expressed his desire that his body be buried instead of being cremated, Vikas said.

An ardent Gandhian, an impetuous social activist and a spirited environmental crusader, Murlidhar Devidas alias Baba Amte lent a new dimension to leprosy service by instilling in thousands of hapless leprosy patients a confidence to live a brave, productive life.

The founder of the world-renowned Anandvan leper-rehabilitation centre in Maharashtra's Chandrapur district who died at the same place in the wee hours of Saturday, Baba also brought to centre-stage the issue of colossal environmental destruction that mega developmental projects cause in their wake through his crusade against big dams.

Baba Amte with his wife Sadhana on their 60th wedding anniversary


His fervour for social and national integrity found its manifestation in the six-month long countrywide "Bharat-Jodo" (Knit-India) pilgrimage that he launched in December 1985 when the country was beset by militant agitations in Punjab, Assam and other parts.

Born on December 26, 1914 in Hinganghat village of Maharashtra's Wardha district, Devidas did his graduation in law from Nagpur university and started his legal practice in Warora only to give it up soon to join the freedom struggle answering the call of Mahatma Gandhi.


Though Baba Amte earned praise globally in his later life for his phenomenal service to leprosy patients that he started by setting up the Anandvan rehabilitation centre in Warora in 1951, he drew sneers and scorn when he took to cleaning gutters and nursing the wounds of hapless leprosy patients.


Recipient of several national and international awards like Padma Bhushan, Damien Dutton, Templeton, Right Livelihood and Magsaysay for his work in the field of leprosy service, Baba left the Anandvan Ashram to his elder son Vikas and set up an abode in Kasravad in Madhya Pradesh to lead his crusade against the gigantic Narmada dam project that threatened to devour vast stretches of thick forest land and displace thousands of villagers in early nineties.


While his wife Sadhana-tai stood by him all through his tumultuous life full of untold hardships, he inspired both his sons Vikas and Prakash along with their wives, respectively Bharati and Manda, all of whom are medical graduates, to take to the life of selfless service.

Baba also started tribal and leper-service projects at Somnath in Chandrapur district and Hemalkasa in Gadchiroli district while constantly developing the parent Anandvan rehabilitation centre where the third generation of Amtes is engaged fully.


Though unable to sit because of an impaired backbone for the last over four decades, Baba never ceased to work and remained mentally agile almost till the end of his life.

A connoisseur of western films - his fascination for Marlyn Monroe was well-known - a lover of books and a powerful speaker, Baba would recite long stanza of Marathi and English poems and recall names of hundreds of decades-old acquaintances and events when visitors came to meet him during his terminal illness.

Advised bed-rest in view of his multiple ailments including cardiac, Baba would insist on going for brisk walks in the Ashram premises. When fatigue overtook him during one such walk last month necessitating hospitalisation, he said, "The pumping machine in my chest, that is my physical heart, doesn't keep pace with me".

The man's never-say-die spirit remaining indomitable till the end of his life, Baba inspired his elder son Vikas, who has involved hundreds of leprosy patients in productive activities at Anandvan.

The light has gone out of our lives

Social activist Medha Patkar pays tribute to her hero

As a student, I first heard Baba speak at a college in Mumbai in 1970 and was immensely inspired by him. His simplicity and honesty and force of his conviction was truly admirable. I didn't get a chance to meet him again until 1988, when I went to Anandvan at Chandarpur, where he had founded a leper-rehabilitation centre. Back then, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) was just three years old. We were pitted against the brute force of the state government. Baba heard us patiently as we narrated to him the plight of adivasis who were about to lose their homes to the giant Narmada Sagar dam and had nowhere to go. The next year, in 1989, we organised a meet in Harsud, the township in Madhya Pradseh that would later become the nerve-centre of our protests against the Narmada Sagar dam. Around 250 organisations and prominent activists including Sunderlal Bahuguna had turned up at the meet. When Baba lent his hand to us and signed up for our battle, we really felt charged up.

All along, Baba never imposed on us his style of agitation. His only presence was reassuring. In 1990, we set up our camp at Chhoti Kasrawat, a village in MP, from where we would fight injustice that was being meted to poor adivasis in the name of giant dams.

Once again, Baba agreed to become our guiding star. We built a hut for him in the village where he lived for 10 years and continued giving us his guidance until the time the government evicted him on trumped-up allegations of encroachment. Even then, he was magnanimous enough to advise us that we should not be bogged down in petty quarrels with the government and that we should lose sight of our larger goals. With him gone, we feel the light has gone out of our lives. (As told to Vivek Sinha)

mumbai news

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