[AI] A tribute to Baba Amte

balasaheb londhe balondhe at gmail.com
Mon Feb 25 08:23:42 EST 2008

Hello Rajesh Sir,
Thanks for this brief introduction.
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Rajesh Asudani" <rajeshasudani at rbi.org.in>
To: <accessindia at accessindia.org.in>
Sent: Monday, February 25, 2008 12:43 PM
Subject: [AI] A tribute to Baba Amte

>                  Living with dignity
>                                                              NEETA 
>             Beyond rejection by relatives, friends and society, to rebuild 
> one's life and a community based on hard work and dignity - that's the 
> essence
> of Amte's Anandwan.
>                                               Photo: PTI Hope and refuge: 
> Baba Amte.
>                                        The incredible story of Anandwan, 
> an expansive, cooperative town of 2,000 leprosy-afflicted and disabled 
> residents,
> began one rainy night. While returning home, Murlidhar Devidas Amte - 
> better known as the humanitarian crusader Baba Amte - ; came across what 
> seemed to
> be a bundle on the side of the road. When he took a closer look, Amte, to 
> his horror, encountered a man in the last stages of leprosy. He saw a 
> rotting
> mass of human flesh without fingers and toes, with holes, sores and worms 
> in place of a nose and eyes. Horrified and afraid, he ran home. But he 
> could
> not live with himself. To overcome the fear he had experienced, he 
> resolved to work with the leprosy-afflicted, a life-changing decision that 
> laid the
> seeds for his future course of action.
> In 1951, on 50 acres of stony wasteland inhabited by wild animals near 
> Warora in north-eastern Maharashtra, Amte along with his wife Sadhana and 
> six patients
> crippled by leprosy, started building Anandwan, a leprosarium and farm 
> where those shunned by their families and society could live and work with 
> dignity.
> Among the first tasks, Amte and his companions with deformed hands and 
> feet, built shelters and dug a well which took almost two months. In three 
> years'
> time, Anandwan grew to a community of 60 people building a new life 
> together. Agriculture, the mainstay of Anandwan's economy, developed 
> gradually, along
> with its diverse endeavours.
> Impressive growth
> Today, Anandwan sprawls across 175 hectares, encompassing hospitals for 
> the treatment, training and rehabilitation of leprosy patients, schools 
> for the
> leprosy-afflicted, blind, deaf-mute and handicapped and a home for the 
> leprosy-afflicted old. It boasts of 120 hectares of agricultural land and 
> vocational
> training centres for disabled youth and rural school and college dropouts. 
> It also includes a home for senior citizens, a community nursery for 
> orphans
> and the children of those with leprosy, and housing for some 2,000 
> residents, among various other endeavours. These varied activities at 
> Anandwan are carried
> out by the leprosy-afflicted and disabled themselves. More than five 
> decades of hard, laborious work has created this "grove of joy" which 
> offers opportunities
> to live a life of dignity to its residents.
> During my visit to Anandwan, I watch a partially blind man named Govind 
> weaving a handloom mat. The task demands craftsmanship, patience and 
> attention to
> detail. Govind progresses extremely slowly but with confidence. A visitor 
> comments, "He can't see a thing so I don't know how he weaves." At 
> Anandwan,
> countless such persons with disabilities are trained in trades ranging 
> from carpet making to carpentry, handloom weaving to electrical work, 
> tailoring
> to repairing air conditioners. The rehabilitated members of Anandwan's 
> community produce a diverse range of products including cloth and carpets, 
> leather
> products and metal furniture, coolers and bicycles. In a country where the 
> disabled are usually sighted begging on the streets or in trains in 
> miserable
> conditions without any dignity, Amte's creative response - "Work builds, 
> charity destroys" - comes alive in the vocational training centres here.
> Through the years, Anandwan has been home to many remarkable individuals 
> who have overcome enormous odds to rebuild their lives fruitfully, 
> utilising the
> opportunities provided here.
> Courageous lives
> Eighty-three-year-old Bansilalji is one such individual. A long-time 
> colleague of Amte, Bansilalji talks of the devastating discrimination he 
> faced when
> afflicted by leprosy. "Anywhere in the world," he tells me emphatically, 
> "once you have leprosy, you have no father, no mother, no brother, no 
> relatives.
> No one loves you." With a smile on his wrinkled face, he is rational and 
> understanding about the absolute rejection he faced from his near and dear 
> ones.
> They were very afraid of getting infected, he tells me. They were 
> illiterate and believed that leprosy could not be cured, he reasons 
> further. People from
> his village, including his own relatives, would refuse to visit his house 
> and buy the milk of his buffaloes. Bansilalji found that people who used 
> to love
> him and care for him - his parents, siblings, wife and friends - now 
> systematically avoided him. They refused to eat with him, refused to talk 
> to him,
> rejected him entirely. Utterly frustrated, he decided to leave home, 
> resolving to commit suicide. But fortunately, he happened to meet Amte in 
> 1956, and
> in the days that followed, played a significant role in helping him 
> develop Anandwan's agriculture in its early days. Today, Bansilalji's son 
> and grandson
> visit him at Anandwan, but the scars of the discrimination he faced are 
> etched on his mind so deeply that he refuses to visit his old home.
> Another life lived with courage is that of Sadashiv Tajne. Sadashiv was 
> afflicted by polio at the age of three, hence he cannot walk. I had 
> decided to talk
> to him about his disability, but he spoke to me about his work at Anandwan 
> with so much hope, energy and enthusiasm that I forgot my original 
> purpose,
> forgot that I was speaking with a disabled man. Sadashiv's parents 
> educated him up to Class 10; throughout those years, he would move about 
> on his hands.
> In 1972, he met Amte and enrolled at Anand Niketan College - the Arts, 
> Science and Commerce College built by the leprosy-afflicted for those 
> without leprosy
> from the world beyond Anandwan. To educate himself during college, he had 
> to travel two kilometres back and forth on his hands everyday. While 
> pursuing
> his formal education, he learned various trades at Anandwan's vocational 
> training centre. Today, he is the supervisor of the same programme, and 
> also the
> director of Anandwan's orchestra. At Anandwan itself, he married Asha, a 
> deaf and mute woman, with whom he has what he describes as a wonderful 
> marriage.
> Sadashiv has never considered himself disabled, never avoided any task due 
> to his disability, never said no.
> A range of endeavours
> Over five and a half decades, Anandwan has pioneered a diverse range of 
> endeavours in various fields ranging from community living to caring for 
> the environment.
> One such endeavour at Anandwan is its very own, extraordinary orchestra - 
> Swaranandawan. I am moved beyond words to see this group of performers 
> with varying
> disabilities on stage. Swaranandawan belts out popular, lively film songs 
> in self-assured, confident voices. A sign on the backdrop to the stage 
> reads
> "Give them a chance, not charity"; beneath it is painted a raised fist. 
> Some performers move to the centre of the stage by supporting themselves 
> on their
> hands. Other blind singers have to be helped in order to face the 
> audience. But, in spite of the difficulties, they are undaunted, confident 
> and charismatic.
> A little girl sings "Dil hai chota sa, Choti si Asha". Her talented mother 
> sings "Jo bhi kiya, Hamna kiya, Shaan se". After the performance, the 
> audience
> - visitors from Bihar - crowd around the artists. One of the 
> polio-afflicted singers, who is also the flamboyant compere of the show, 
> has sung a song dedicated
> to his life-partner, who is deaf and mute. Who is she, people from the 
> audience ask him? Can we see your house, they continue. She is very lucky 
> (to have
> a husband like you), remarks one lady.
> Back to reality
> Having spent a few unforgettable days at Anandwan, I take my leave. On the 
> train, I encounter many beggars, some blind, some without legs who are 
> crawling
> on their hands, some pointing out their deformities to me. What kind of a 
> society are we, I think to myself, that cannot even provide a basic life 
> of dignity
> to our fellow human beings? As the beggars stream past me gradually, I am 
> reminded of my days at Anandwan. I am reminded of the girl who confidently 
> pointed
> out directions to me with her hand amputated at the elbow. I am reminded 
> of a group of deaf and mute students talking animatedly amongst themselves 
> in
> sign language. I am reminded of the partially blind girls who danced 
> beautifully to the beat of the Anandwan orchestra. Outside Anandwan, the 
> world seems
> to be back to its usual self. It is difficult to keep in mind that a place 
> such as Anandwan really exists.
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