Murlidhar Devidas Amte, affectionately known as Baba Amte (Father Amte) with a doodle. Baba Amte dedicated his life to serving those in need, especially those afflicted with leprosy.
On this day in 1914, Murlidhar grew up in an affluent household and became a lawyer. As a young man, he had a taste for good clothes, movies and fast cars; but he also had a social conscience, which caused him misgivings about India’s caste-ridden society and the state of poverty and oppression in which so many lived. However, attempts to reach out to his fellow man met with stiff resistance from his father and the high-caste circles in which he moved.
By his 30s, Amte left his practice in order to work alongside the underprivileged. As he set off on his mission, he met Indu Ghuleshastri, whose kindness to an elderly servant touched Amte, and the two married soon after.
Amte’s life was changed forever when he encountered a man suffering from leprosy. The sight of the man’s decaying body filled him with overwhelming fear. Confronting that fear, Amte identified the state of “mental leprosy” that allowed people to feel apathetic in the face of this dreaded affliction. He said that the most frightening disease is not losing one’s limbs, but losing one’s strength to feel kindness and compassion.
Dedicating his life to the cause, Amte defied the social stigmas faced by leprosy patients by injecting himself with bacilli to prove that the disease was not highly contagious. in 1949 he established Anandwan—meaning “Forest of Bliss”—a self-sufficient village and rehabilitation center for leprosy patients.
A strong believer in national unity, Amte launched the first Knit India March in 1985. At age 72, he walked from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, a distance of more than 3,000 miles with the simple purpose to inspire unity in India. In a time of national strife, Amte was accompanied by 100 men and 16 women, all under the age of 35. He organized a second march three years later, traveling over 1800 miles from Assam to Gujarat.
In recognition of Amte’s tireless work, he went on to win the 1971 Padma Shri Award, the 1988 United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights, and the 1999 Gandhi Peace Prize. His legacy lives on through his two sons who share their father’s sense of compassion.
On what would have been his 104th birthday, we salute Babe Amte for a lifetime of service to humanity.