A strong believer in India's unity, Baba Amte at age 72, launched the first Knit India March and walked from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.
Google has dedicated a special doodle slideshow to honour Murlidhar Devidas Amte, an Indian social worker affectionately known as ‘Baba Amte’ (father Amte). On this day in 1914, born in Maharashtra, Amte left everything at a very early age to serve those in need, especially those afflicted with leprosy, at a very early age. A strong believer of national unity, Amte also organised marches to promote national integration. His father was a British government official who was responsible for looking after the district administration and revenue collection.
The stature of Amte in serving humanity can be gauged by the fact that he was born to a wealthy family and had all the elite privileges at his disposal. He was exposed to a high-class life which included hunting wild animals, play sports, and drive luxurious cars. However, the social-worker instinct inside this man was such that despite his upbringing, Amte was aware of India’s class inequalities throughout his childhood. Amte went on to study law and was running his own successful firm by his 20s.
However, he left his practice by his 30s in order to work alongside the underprivileged. He met Indu Ghuleshastri, on his way to serve people, whose kindness to an elderly servant touched him, and the two married soon after.
However, Amte’s life changed after he encountered a man suffering from leprosy. The sight of the person’s decaying body filled Amte with overwhelming fear. Amte confronted that fear and identified the state of ‘mental leprosy’ that allowed people to feel apathetic in the face of this dreaded pain.
According to WHO, Leprosy is also known as Hansen’s disease and it is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. Leprosy mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosal surfaces of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes.
Amte 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 this cause, Amte defied social stigmas faced by the patients of leprosy by injecting himself with bacilli to prove that the disease was not highly contagious. In 1949, he established Anandwan—meaning ‘Forest of Bliss’, which was a self-sufficient village and rehabilitation center for the patients.
A strong believer in India’s unity, Baba Amte at age 72, launched the first Knit India March and walked from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, a distance of more than 3,000 miles with the purpose to inspire unity in the country. Later he organised a second march after three years, traveling over 1800 miles from Assam to Gujarat.
Amte’s social work had been recognised by the government of India when he was conferred with the Padma Shri Award in 1971. In 1988, Amte was awarded United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights, and in the year 1999, he was conferred with the Gandhi Peace Prize.