The 1985 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service
CITATION for Murlidhar Devidas Amte
Ramon Magsaysay Award Presentation Ceremonies
31 August 1985, Manila, Philippines
Charity is society's traditional response to the disabled, the burdensome and the backward. In contrast, in the scrub forests of Central India are four communities, built by MURLIDHAR DEVIDAS AMTE over nearly four decades, and based on the philosophy that "charity destroys, work builds." There thousands of social outcasts have been given a chance to prosper, become productive members of the local economy and, most importantly, recapture self-respect.
Born 71 years ago into a wealthy high-caste family in Maharashtra State and educated to be a lawyer, AMTE from childhood rebelled against the social discrimination accepted by his privileged peers. He ate with untouchables and joined the Gandhian protests against alien rule and India's caste system. A few weeks after his marriage, and with the full support of his bride Sadhana, he gave up his practice of law and management of his family estate and resolved to devote his life to helping society's castoffs. Conscience stricken by the fear and loathing he felt when he chanced upon a dying leper, he studied the disease at the School of Tropical Medicine in Calcutta. In 1951, with his family, six leprosy patients and a lame cow, he moved to 20 hectares of rock-strewn, tiger and scorpion infested wasteland in Chandrapur district and established Anandwan, "Forest of Bliss. "
The small band's first task, a 10-meter well, took seven weeks. "We had more tears in our eyes than water in the well," AMTE observed. Building hope and self-respect while reclaiming and planting the land, the pioneers within two years achieved food self-sufficiency.
Today, AMTE and his elder son, a physician, manage at Anandwan a flourishing 200-hectare complex. In stone, brick and cement buildings-constructed by volunteers and residentsare a 1,600-students college affiliated with Nagpur University; a 300-student agricultural college; schools for the blind, for the deaf, dumb and physically handicapped and for leprosy-afflicted children; an orphanage; a home for senior citizens; and housing for some 2,000 people. Also included are a general hospital, two community bio-gas plants, a bank, post office, community center, Gram Panchayat (local self-government), vocational centers offering training in 16 crafts, and a 125 hectare farm. Quality marks Anandwan products, from handloomed textiles and carved furniture to prize-winning cattle and high-yield seeds. Of India's some four million leprosy patients, well over 100,000 have been treated there, and thousands of them and other physically and socially handicapped have become productive.
In 1957 AMTE established Ashokwan, now occupying 40 hectares south of Nagpur, and a decade later Somnath, on 526 hectares also in Chandrapur district. Like Anandwan, these settlements are both rehabilitation centers for the handicapped and integrated rural developments, utilizing intensive and scientific agricultural methods.
In 1974 he founded the Lok Biradri Prakalps (People's Brotherhood Project) to protect the tribal Madia-Gonds with whom he had come in contact as a boy when visiting the remote forests of Central India. He had been inspired by the honesty and simplicity of a people who had never seen a wheel or heard of India, and was now appalled at the destruction of their environment by the encroachment of civilization. He, his younger son and daughter-in-law, both medical doctors, oversaw the building of a hospital and developed a community health program with seven centers in the tribal area. He also provides training in practical farming methods and elementary education promoting tribal language and values. Last year he led, at a mass rally and by personal appeal to the prime minister, in gaining postponement and ret consideration of government plans for two major dams in the tribal heartland which would have flooded over 75,000 homes and thousands of hectares of prime forest.
BABA (father) AMTE, as he is affectionately called by the throng he has helped, is himself painfully crippled with a degenerative disease of the spine. Today he can walk but not sit erect, and must travel in a prone position. Still he continues to build and plan. Above all his goal is to eradicate "mental leprosy" or "psychological anesthesia. which he believes is the greatest of human limitations.
In electing MURLIDHAR DEVIDAS AMTE to receive the 1985 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his work-oriented rehabilitation of Indian leprosy patients and other handicapped outcasts.
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