Rediff India Abroad
 Rediff India Abroad Home  |  All the sections


The Web

India Abroad

Sign up today!

Get news updates:
Mobile Downloads
Text 67333
Article Tools
Email this article
Top emailed links
Print this article
Contact the editors
Discuss this Article

Home > India > News > Report

Baba Amte: The Gandhi after that Gandhi

Himanshu Thakkar | February 09, 2008 20:20 IST

Related Articles
Baba Amte was Mahatma Gandhi's last follower
'The ward boys left me in a corner near the urinals'
'After 50 years what democracy is this?'

The Gandhi after that Gandhi -- that is the phrase that comes to my mind when I think about Murlidhar Devidas Amte, better known as Baba Amte, who passed away on Saturday.

We have a habit of bestowing greatness to the dead. But there are very few people for whom that phrase will stick. Most people whom we know as Gandhian, unfortunately, do not fit the bill, as they are not the fighters that Mohandas Gandhi was.

Baba Amte fearlessly fought for injustices he saw, without bothering about consequences. That, to me seems to be the most important reason why that phrase sticks.

The social activist is best known for the four Ashrams he helped set up in central India -- three of them for leprosy patients and the fourth for adivasis (tribals). Anyone who has visited these places (Anandvan, Somnath, Ashokvan and Hemalkasa) would see the very rare combination of a fantastic visionary and also a great implementer of visions that he was. But, he had gone far ahead of that work.

Over two decades ago when I left my job as an engineer, I decided to go to Anandvan, as I thought that this was a remarkable person from whom one can learn so much before one sets out to work on social issues. Those six months will remain some of the most memorable months of my life.

I was fortunate to see him, Sadhna Tai and also Dr Vikas and Dr Prakash Amte (his two sons) from close quarters. In latter years, I traveled extensively with him in the then troubled Punjab and thereafter along the banks of Narmada. Both phases showed his famous fearlessness that Gandhiji had remarked about.

The strange situation at the famous Ferkuwa on the Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh border in the early days of 1990s, in many ways, signified a lot. Here was Baba Amte with a few thousand people on the road, on a march towards Sardar Sarovar dam site, fighting against the controversial project on the Madhya Pradesh side of the border.

The march was stopped by the might of the Gujarat government (the birth place of the Gandhi). The marchers were on the road, bearing chilly winter days and nights. The rag tag army, as media articles described the marchers, stood in stark contrast to the might of the state on the other side of the border.

After 22 days of indefinite fast by seven marchers (weapon of Gandhiji, not used by too many these days), the marchers finally decided to go back to their barracks on January 30, 1990, the death anniversary of Gandhiji. The irony of that situation, in many ways, showed why Amte could be called the Gandhi after that Gandhi.

I am reminded of the poem my friend Sreekumar sent me last week, the first stanza of which reads:

"Where have they gone, those good people?
Who carry their hearts in their eyes
Who patiently wait when the child is struggling to string a question
Who are acutely conscious of their ignorance, yet
Are fearless to do what they feel right
Who have read a lot, but spring up at every new book
Who don't fall for the outside, but can discern the insides
Who don't go around sprinkling their importance"

The twinkle in the eye, the spring in the steps, the Saraswati (goddess of knowledge) that flowed from his language, the enthusiasm that was his hallmark. It was not without reason that he was called the only man who had spine. It seems like a father figure has gone away.