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The Miracle Worker

Baba Amte Murlidhar Devidas Amte was born on December 24, 1914 in Hingaighat, Wardha. "He came to be known as Baba not because he is a saint or any such thing, but because his parents addressed him by that name," reveals Sadhanatai, his wife.

The seeds of social activism were sown early. Belonging to a family of brahmin jagirdars, regardless of his parents's disapproval, Baba Amte often ate with servants and played with lower caste children. As a nine-year-old, he was so moved by the sight of a blind beggar that he dropped a handful of silver coins in his bowl.

He studied law and started a lucrative practice in Wardha, but was appalled by the poverty in his family estate in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. He relinquished his robes and began working with sweepers and carriers of night soil.

Baba Amte with Sadhanatai He married Sadhana Guleshastri in 1946. He was touched when he saw her leave a wedding party to help an old servant. "I went to her house and told her parents that I was the suitable groom for her," he quips.

"She has been giving me a tulsi, haldi and milk concoction for years, she thinks it will make me fair," he laughs, while tai explains how good it is for his throat. Tai spends time between Anandwan and Kasrawad, and has always been at Baba Amte's side during all his campaigns.

After marriage, Baba Amte started working for those struck by leprosy outside Warora. He set up 11 weekly clinics around Warora and later started Anandwan, where they dug the lower depths of the earth in temperatures as high as 47 degrees before they found water. He took a formal course for leprosy treatment and even allowed his body to be used for an experiment to grow leprae germs. As it was ineffective, the experiment was abandoned later.

Anandwan was registered in 1951 and more land was given by the government. Two hospitals, a university, an orphanage, a school for the blind and technical wings were added subsequently. The ashram is now a self sufficient unit and more than 5,000 people are dependent on it for their livelihood.

Baba Amte on the banks of Narmada Baba Amte also launched two Bharat Jodo -- Knit India -- Movements from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in 1985 and Assam and Gujarat in 1988. His aim was to establish peace and generate environmental awareness.

The proceeds of the several awards won by him and his family, amounting to nearly Rs 15 million have been given to Anandwan. Many familiar with his work say Baba should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. To this, he has a simple answer: "Mine is a Noble Enterprise," he says


Baba Amte, continued

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