Nagpur, Feb 9: Eminent social activist and Magsaysay Award winner Baba Amte, passed away at his residence at Warora in Chandrapur district in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra early this morning. He was 94. The end came at 'Anandwan' ashram around 4am, family sources here said.
Mr Amte had been ailing for some time and had recently been diagnosed with blood cancer, the sources said. He is survived by two sons and two daughters. The funeral would be held tomorrow, the sources added.
Born on December 24, 1914, at Hinganghat in Wardha District, Vidarbha, Amte devoted his entire life to the care and rehabilitation of leprosy patients. He came to be known as 'Baba' as his parents addressed him by that name. Hailing from a family of Brahmin jagirdars, the seeds of social activism were sown at an early age. A law graduate, he started a lucrative practice in Wardha. But he was appalled by the poverty in his family estate in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra forcing him to relinquish his robes and work with sweepers and carriers of night soil.
He married Sadhana Guleshastri in 1946. She has been by Amte's side through all his campaigns. After marriage, Baba Amte started working for those struck by leprosy outside Warora. He set up 11 clinics around Warora and later started Anandwan. 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.
The ashram was now a self-sufficient unit and more than 5,000 people are dependent on it for their livelihood. Baba Amte also launched two Bharat Jodo (Knit India) Movements, the first from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in 1985 and the second from Assam to 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.
Before plunging into his crusade against leprosy, Baba Amte was a practising lawyer. He organised lawyers to take up the defence of the imprisoned leaders of the Quit India Movement in 1942 and was imprisoned for his attempts. Often referred to as the last follower of Gandhi, he was deeply influenced by Gandhi, be it his belief in village industry, empowerment of people, uplift of the poor or a spartan way of life.
Apart from lepers, Baba Amte also worked for the uplift of tribals. Talking about them in an interview, he said, ''The condition of the tribals is worse than those inflicted with leprosy.
Purna Swaraj can only be possible when the poorest of poor is uplifted''. According to him, a balanced economic system is one which provides ''Sufficiency for all and superfluity for some.'' He once said, ''You can have your skyscrapers and Cokes but before this you must ensure that that tribal girl defaecating in the open has the privacy of a toilet.'' His relentless work on leprosy for nearly sixty years earned him several acclodes. They included: Damien-Dutton Award, USA, 1983; Highest international award in the field of leprosy, Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, Philippines, 1985; United Nations Human Rights Prize, 1988; International Giraffe Award, USA, 1989; The Templeton Prize, USA, 1990; United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 1991; The Roll of Honour for Environmental Achievement; The Right Livelihood Award popularly described as Nobel Prize, Sweden.
He was a recipient of Padma Vibhushan award 1986, Gandhi Peace Prize in 1999, Dr Ambedkar International Award for Social Change in 1999. In addition, he had won several awards within the country.