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Murlidhar Devidas “Baba” Amte: Biography of an Nobel Man - "Voyage De La Vie"

"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.” -Baba Amte

A wholesome life of a wholesome man; Image Source: Bhushan's Blog- Wordpress

Was awarded on 3rd August 1985

One fine day, a kid was roaming on the roads when he suddenly encountered a blind beggar. His heart felt heavy after seeing the helpless beggar roaming around the streets begging for alms with an empty bowl in his hands so that he could satisfy his hunger. Even on the occasion of Diwali, the beggar had no one beside him to celebrate with. Searching for something in his pockets, the kid came across a handful of coins.

As soon as he emptied the contents in the bowl, the beggar exclaimed, “I am only a beggar young sir, don’t put stones in my bowl.” Scrunching his brows in confusion, the kid said, “They’re coins, not stones. Count them if you wish.” This kid was none other than the protagonist of our story Murlidhar Devidas “Baba” Amte.

Once upon a time, there lived an affluent Deshastha Brahmin family in the city of Hinganghat in Maharashtra. Though the family reeked of wealth and affluence, they always felt the emptiness until the solitude house heard the patter of tiny feet. Devidas Amte’s happiness knew no bounds when he held his son, Murlidhar Devidas Amte in his arms. Devidas had decided that his son would carry on his legacy and become a renowned lawyer one day. But little did he know about the gracious purpose of the Almighty who had already planned out the life of baby Amte.

As Murlidhar grew up, he was never denied any luxury. Being the eldest son of a wealthy landowner had its perks. By the time he reached his early teens, he held his gun and started hunting expeditions. As soon as he learned driving skills, a posh Singer Sports car with plush panther skinned cushions adorning the seats, stood in front of him.

But nothing appealed to him since the day he had met the blind beggar on the road. Despite having a childhood filled with luxuries, Amte had always known about the difference that existed between the poor and the rich. To support the plight of the poor and marginalised, he often played with the servant’s children despite his father’s disapproval. The rigidity of his father’s “so-called perfect world” shocked him to the core.

He often used to say, “There is a certain callousness in families like my family, they put up strong barriers to avoid seeing the misery in the outside world and I rebelled against it."

As a child, Baba Amte was always intrigued by the doctors who ran day and night to save lives. Even he wanted to become a doctor, but his father had already planned out a life for him. His father wanted him to become a lawyer and handle the family business. Having no other choice than to comply with his father’s wishes, Devidas went on to complete his lawyer’s degree and soon became an acclaimed lawyer at Wardha. He would practice law throughout the week and handle the family business on weekends. His life was plain sailing until one day a thought provoked him.

Explaining his plight, Amte said, “I was charging Rs 50 for arguing for 15 minutes while a labourer was getting only three-quarters of a rupee for 12 hours of toil. That was what was eating into me.”

It was from the year 1942 when Murlidhar’s life took a U-turn. He involved himself in the Indian freedom struggle and worked as a defense lawyer for the Indian leaders who were imprisoned by the Britishers. At a point, he founded himself getting attracted to Gandhi’s principles and soon became an ardent follower of Gandhism.

During this time, Amte met a leprosy patient named Tulshiram. Describing Tulshiram, he said, " A man in the last stage of leprosy. A rotting mass of human flesh with two holes in place of a nose, without traces of fingers or toes, with worms and sores where there should have been eyes. A living corpse."

A man who did not flinch even at the sight of a panther standing at a few inches distance from him, and a man who did not fear his father’s wrath, he ran away from Tulshiram horrified after seeing his condition. Though he wanted to help him, his fear did not allow him to do so. He used to say,

"I had never been frightened of anything. Because I fought British tommies to save the honour of an Indian lady, Gandhiji called me 'Abhay Sadhak', fearless seeker of the truth. When the sweepers of Warora challenged me to clean the gutters, I did so; but the same person quivered in fright when he saw the living corpse of Tulshiram."

Deciding to push aside his fears, Amte went ahead to help the leprosy patients and clear the misconceptions of leprosy from society. For this, he and his wife, Sadhanatai not only lived among these infected patients and helped them to carry out their everyday activities, but also did something quite brave to show that leprosy is not contagious.

Murlidhar injected himself with bacilli (a bacteria found in the bodies of leprosy patients) from a patient just to prove that the disease was not highly contagious.

Apart from setting up ashrams that would not only cater to the needs of these helpless patients but also give them a home to live in, Baba Amte made sure to contribute in almost every field possible. He participated in the Quit India Movement and made people understand the necessity of biodiversity and nature’s balance. Along with Medha Patkar, he also protested for Narmada Bachao Andolan.

Seeing his unparalleled courage and innumerable contributions, the Government of the Philippines honoured him with Ramon Magsaysay Award on this very day in 1985. They also cited the following:

"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.

Living a life that was dedicated to society, but seldom for himself, Murlidhar Devidas Amte finally went on a final rest at the age of 93 in 2008. Before his death, he had requested his family members to bury him rather than cremating him. When asked about the reason, he explained that being an environmentalist, he knows that burning a body would release carbon dioxide in the air and this, in turn, would affect Mother Nature.
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