Posted by: pgprm08 | December 6, 2009

Review of the book “Wisdom Song: the Life of Baba Amte”-by Neesha Mirchandani:- by LG 3


ABOUT BABA AMTE

Murlidhar Devidas Amte, popularly known as Baba Amte (December 26, 1914 – February 9, 2008) was an Indian social worker and social activist known particularly for his work for the rehabilitation and empowerment of poor people suffering from leprosy. He is known to millions of Indians as Baba Amte – “Father” Amte. Like Gandhi, Baba Amte trained as a lawyer and was involved in the Indian freedom struggle against the British Empire. He spent time at Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram in Sevagram and was also influenced by Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Gurdev Rabindranath Tagore, and Sane Guruji – other important freedom fighters.

REVIEW OF THE BOOK

Wisdom song by Neesha Mirchandani is a scintillating biography of Baba Amte based on her conversation with Baba, interviews with many of his close friends and family and collective memories of those who have known Baba best.

The author, according to her perception, has divided the book into four parts. Part one deals with Baba’s birth and the contemporary socio-cultural milieu which influenced and shaped his personality. Part two focuses on his actions and experiments in championing for the social justice; his advocacy of environmental and other causes in part three; and his vision for of India of 21st century in part four.

Part 1

Author initiates the biography with the birth of Baba as a symbol of “fragile but powerful humanity” by equating it with ephemeral harmony that developed between the soldiers of adversaries on Christmas Eve (Baba’s Date of Birth) during World War I. It sounds rhetoric initially; nevertheless as one engage himself with the further chapters throwing light on Baba’s life these skepticisms melt away.

Baba was born in a rich Brahmin family, thus by economic conditions and social status he belongs to a privilege section. However, right from his childhood he was against the status quo which reinforced stratification in society based on caste and gender. Baba was influenced by various personalities during this phase which were much ahead of their times. For instance, his mother Laxmibai Amte who even at that time was in favor of sending girls to school and emancipation of women and lower castes. Likewise he was influenced by Sane Guruji, Rajguru and Vinoba Bhave.

Baba Amte studied law from University college of law from Nagpur, 1936 against his will. The high wage that he received as a junior advocate gave him a guilt feeling. During the Quit India Movement he showed his patriotism by being the pleader on behalf of local people and was thus jailed for a brief period. He believed in the power of unity as it was a way to bring people together for social and community development. He lacked the ruthlessness and diplomacy and was not ready to compromise on his values which is a sign of a true leader. But the spiritual quest made him take refuge in religion but that experience only strengthened his view his future lied in working for the deprived people. His wife provided him emotional security that helped a lot in accomplishing his life goals. From his works, he experienced that morality among poor was far higher than among the rich. He believed that self-reliance is the way for him to accomplish his goals.

Part 2

Peppered with quotes and remembrances from Amte and the many committed men and women he inspired, Mirchandani recounts the extraordinary stories of his lifelong endeavours. The narrative encompasses the celebrated Anandwan – a sprawling rehabilitation centre for the leprosy-affected and physically challenged – in Maharashtra (1951 onwards). Amte’s defining moment came one rainy night, when he encountered a man dying of leprosy. He then began the unbelievable story of Anandwan, painstakingly hewn out of barren, rock-strewn land infested by wild animals, by Amte, his wife Sadhana and their fellow workers afflicted by leprosy. With poverty and extreme hardship as constant companions, the group transformed their harsh surroundings into verdant fields. Amte has often said that one can live without fingers, but not without self-respect. True to this maxim, beyond healing people’s wounds, he restored their dignity by providing them with work. Thus, those shunned by society and condemned to a life of begging were enabled to work in the fields and vocational training centres of Anandwan. Over the years, his dream has evolved into a town with hospitals, schools, homes, agricultural land and occupational training centres, built and run by the leprosy-affected and physically challenged themselves.

Towards the end of the sixties, Baba was extremely sick. In order to bring an end to this suffering, Baba had to undergo a life-saving spine operation in U.K. in 1971.

Baba had a strong desire to work for the aborigine Gond tribals of central India. He   appreciated their simplicity and unity. He had observed their habit of not hoarding material objects unlike the urban society. The land occupied by them is rich in flora and fauna. But their lives had been affected by trouble inflicted upon them by the forest guards who were corrupt and opportunistic. The community lacked formal education and proper healthcare facilities. Children who were disabled were left to die. Primitive methods of farming were used and life beyond the age of 40 was supposed to be too long.  But in terms of women empowerment the community was advanced. Men and women have equal status and the husband is supposed to give dowry to the wife’s parents.

Baba’s 1971 adventure visit to Bhamragad (the land of the Madia Gond tribals) resulted in the Lok Biradari Prakalp project started in 1973.  It was a primarily healthcare project for the tribals. His younger son, Dr Prakash Amte was also involved in the project. It was a difficult task to set up the project. Transport in the region was difficult. Providing salt to the tribals at the actual cost price was also a part of the project work.

Baba handed over this project to his son, son-in-law and daughter in the mid-seventies. Some people have criticized Baba’s decision to give leadership positions to his children. But in fact it was a very judicious decision as other people rarely agreed to work in these areas which were cut off from the cities. The project received a cold response from the Madias initially as their past experiences with outsiders had not been too positive. They had been victims of the British, naxalites and also the government. But the good work and success of this project made the people trust it gradually and in a short span of time it catered to more patients than the government hospital.

Another project taken up by Baba in this region was the education project and the Lok Biradari School was established. The school was funded by donations and other Maharogi Sewa Samiti projects and there was no government support. But the school flourished.

Both the hospital and the school continue to run successfully. Baba’s dream to serve the Madias came true due to unshakeable trust of the Madias and continuous support of his team (The  Madia Gonds, Prakash Amte, Manda Amte, Renuka Manohar, Vikas Manohar, Gopal Phadni, Prabha Phadni, students of the school , Dada Phanchal.)

Part 3

During late 1980s, Baba called for the ‘Peace by Peace’ mission in Punjab, during which he spent time with grieving families who had lost near and dear ones to the violence. After this, he again continued his mission of national integration through ‘Bharat Jodo- II (Knit India- II)’ campaign. With a troupe of 75 young men & women on bicycles, he traversed India from East (Arunachal Pradesh) to West (Gujarat) this time.

During 1990-2000, Baba became involved with the issue of building of big dams on Narmada River. This was a continuation of his protests against big dams. Baba’s campaign was against the social injustice to the people who depended on the river and against destroying the delicate ecosystem. He supported Medha Patkar through his constant silent vigil and strong moral support. Despite all the criticism of his anti-dam ‘politics’, he remained steadfast with his beliefs.

Another of the dreams of Baba was a peace missions to Pakistan which remained unfulfilled till the end.

Part 4

In the fourth part the author has explained the character attribute of Baba. Well known among his group as a writer he was also famous as a poet. His poems were full of Universal development and hidden messages. He also authored several papers on the development and related issue. Author mentions him being a follower of Universal Spirituality rather than god. He experimented with himself for all the ways he can turn up the human frailties into Competitive advantage. Several cases where his humor was quick and well targeted have also been mentioned in the book. He believed in daily life heroes rather than following up the popular faces. He had the quote that it was your work that made you visible in your life. Even during his end days he always said that do what you can. Responsibilities are non transferable.  He was one of the Change leaders who believed in the power of the Youth and that they are the one who can change the world.

Annexure-1

Baba has been honored with several international and national awards for his work done for the cause of social justice.

# Padmashree in 1971

# Rashtra Bhushan or ‘Pride of the nation’ in 1978

# Jamnalal Bajaj Award in 1979

# Damien-Dutton Award in 1983 (the highest international award in the field of leprosy)

# Magsaysay Award in 1985

# Indira Gandhi Memorial Award by the Madhya Pradesh government for his exceptional steadfastness towards social service in 1985

# Padma Vibhushan in 1986


#
Raja Ram Mohan Roy Award in 1986

# UN Human Rights Award for outstanding contribution in the field of human rights in 1988

# G D Birla International Award in 1988 for his contribution to humanism

# Templeton Prize, UK in 1990

# International Giraffe Award, USA in 1990

# Global 500 award of UN environment program for outstanding contributions towards environment in 1991

# Right Livelihood Award, Sweden in 1992 (also called as ‘Alternate Noble Prize for Environment’)

# International Gandhi Peace Prize in 1999

# Dr. Ambedkar International Award, in 1999

The government of India never considered to honor him with the highest civilian award – ‘Bharat Ratna’.

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Responses

  1. very interesting, I have just had my DNA ancestroy analyised and find I am related thru my DNA to the madia gond, in 2 specific parts of india..


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