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A leaf from the life story of Baba Amte
baba-amte Baba Amte was born on 26th December 1914, in a wealthy Brahmin family in a sleepy village of Goraja, near Warora town in Maharashtra. He came under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave at an early age. Despite being born in a Brahmin family, he rejected the traditional orthodoxy and progressively involved himself in the 'constructive program' of Mahatma Gandhi which included promotion of Khadi, spartan and frugal lifestyle and uplift of down trodden. On the eve of India's independence, Baba Amte launched his first experiment in social justice and community living and called it Shram Ashram. The life style in these seven acres of land was fashioned on the lines of Gandhiji's ashram. Sweepers, cobblers, black smiths, bamboo weavers, daily wage earners and the middle class employees, all lived together in a commune and lived on bread labour. Baba Amte personally went to the village market and sat with the other village vendors to sell the products grown in their farm. He would not quote price of his products and he asked the purchasers to pay, what they thought would be the correct price of labour. Many a times a rich man would walk away with a bagful of vegetables and pay a pittance for the vegetables. Baba Amte would say nothing. In the evening the servant of the ‘rich rogue’, who thought he had outsmarted Baba Amte, would quietly return, pick up a small piece of vegetable and pay handsomely to compensate for the niggardliness of his master. Baba Amte, the son of a rich landlord, who drove expensive cars and wore pin stripped suits in his younger days, sat in the market everyday as a common vendor and sold vegetables grown with his labour and of his compatriots, and watched the high morality of the poor versus of the rich. This was a rewarding experience. The experiment lasted 18 months.
Later, he would be elected as the president of the Sweepers Union in Warora. To experience the degrading work of the sweepers, he would get up at 3 a.m. in the morning and clean up the town latrines between 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. He would then carry the human excreta in a wicker basket to the dumping grounds.
Baba Amte officially registered an organisation by name Maharogi Sewa Samiti (Leprosy Service Society) in 1949 in Warora. In 1951, the Society moved into a barren rocky land, three Kilometers of Warora. The place was called Anandwan. Baba Amte moved in this wilderness of the waste land along with his wife and two little children. Their initial abode were two huts, one for his family and the other for the leprosy patients, whom the Amte couple had adopted for nursing. Today, the Anandwan is an institution of it's kind, having won world recognition. It is being managed by his children and his grand children. Anandwan is a living institution of Gandhiji's ideals of serving those, who have been rejected by the society for no fault of theirs.
Below are three excerpts from the biography of Baba Amte written by Neesha Mirchandani, titled ' Wisdom Song.' Each episode mentioned hereunder has a small message for all of us.
I do hope that you would enjoy reading the excerpts. All great works have a small and unexpected beginning.
S C Jaini, Retired Chief Commissioner, Central Board of Direct Taxes

The life ofBaba Amte
author – Neesha Mirchandani

Chapter 4
Coming of Age (1943-46)
As the legend goes, Baba Amte was returning home after cleaning toilets one dark rainy night. It was drizzling slightly. He was carrying a basket of human waste on his head. Suddenly, Baba noticed something moving in a ditch. First he thought it was just a bundle of rags. But suddenly he realized it was actually a man. Baba described Tulshiram: ‘A man in the ultimate stages of leprosy. A rotting mass of human flesh with two holes in place of a nose, without a trace of fingers or toes, with worms and sores where there should have been eyes.
Baba ran away, terrified of contracting leprosy. He realized with shock that this was the first time that he had been conquered by fear. Baba returned and put jute sackcloth on Tulshiram to shield him from the rain. He went through a period of mental anguish as he struggled with his fears of leprosy. He wrote later, ‘I have never been frightened of anything. Because I fought Tommies to save the honour of an Indian lady, Gandhiji called me “Abhay sadhak” – fearless seeker of truth. When the sweepers of Warora challenged me to clean gutters, I did so. But that same person who fought goondas and British bandits quivered in fright when he saw the living corpse of Tulshiram, no fingers, no cloths, with maggots all over. That is why I took up leprosy work. Not to help anyone, but to overcome that fear in my life. That it worked out good for others was a by-product. But the fact is I did it to overcome fear.
Chapter 4
Coming of Age (1943-46)
Much has been written about Baba’s leprosy work. But very few people are aware of Baba’s early work with the Harijan community in Warora. If the Shram Ashram experiment had succeeded, he may have never ventured down this road. Baba put it differently. He said: ‘It is wrong to evaluate an adventurer does not bother about success or failure. Some (experiments) succeed other fail. The small failures will be launching pads of bigger adventures; just as the failure of Shram Ashram led to the success of Anandwan… the seed of success is hidden within every failure.
(This chapter is based on Baba Amte: The Man and His Mission by Dr B. G. Bapat and S. M. Shrirodkar.)
Rajni Bakshi, Bapu Kuti
Chapter 5
Anandwan (1951)
Baba explained mental leprosy in this way: “The physical sings of leprosy are hypo-pigmented patches [of skin] and loss of sensation. Then later, there is thickening of the nerves. Now in so-called healthy society, you can see a lot of injustice and poverty, yet you are not moved. You have lost your sensation, your feeling. You suffer from psychological anesthesia. The mind is so dull; the heart so unfeeling, thick-skinned like a hippopotamus. That’s mental leprosy.’ He then added sadly, ‘I have found out that while physical leprosy is perfectly curable, mental leprosy is not.’ In its own way, the SCI camp helped dissolve some of the mental leprosy in the town of Warora by demonstrating that outsiders could not catch the disease by associating with the residents.
In the mid-fifties Mother Gavrilia (Avrilia Papyanni), a member of the Orthodox Church of Greece, arrived at Anandwan. Everyone called her Sister Leela. She wrote about the circumstances in which she arrived: ‘The long hours of travelling by train had tired me much. The drive by ox-cart through the cold night did not help. But the moment I stepped into the makeshift “home” of Baba Amte, my weariness vanished and my spirit rejoiced at the simple, warm, homely atmosphere. There had been neither a formal salutation nor the typical western shaking of hands. The kind smile on Baba Amte’s face as he came forward to meet me, spoke to my heart more than the warmest of “welcomes”. All the time, Mrs. Amte stood behind her husband, silent, holding a baby in her arms. The baby was not her own but the child of a “leper” woman of the colony, and they were raising it in their home, together with their own children, to save it from being contaminated by its mother… Their two boys were in bed at this time of night.’
Gavrilia, Ascetic of love.