Murlidhar Devidas (Baba) Amte, born on the 26th of December 1914, came from an affluent family in Hinganghat, Wardha. He was a lawyer and had established a successful practice in Wardha. However, he soon participated in India’s struggle for freedom and represented many imprisoned Indian freedom fighters during the 1942 Quit India Movement. After spending a brief period in Mahatma Gandhi’s Sewagram Ashram, he adopted Gandhism, and spun his own cloth and started wearing khadi. The genesis of the MSS life lies in a fear factor. Baba Amte, long back in 1949, while returning home on a rainy day, stumbled across a leprosy patient in a gutter. He found it hard to describe it as a human being for it was all that remained of it was a disintegrated piece of human flesh, pierced and punctured at various places by maggots and smelling repulsively. Two regular slits on the face, covered by eyelids, and functioning as eyes were appealing for help. The nose, fingers and toes had melted away and deep ulcers had eaten half of the soles. Baba Amte, in fear of the sight of this ‘human’ being, literally fled the place. However his conscious did not allow him to rest peacefully for having abandoned a fellow human being in need, just due to the fearful sight the latter presented. Next day he returned with food and nursed the man to overcome his fear. From the above incident Baba realized that the condition of the leprosy afflicted was so pitiable not only because of lack of medical cure but also because of a series of other factors. Leprosy was considered to be the sin of past birth and leprosy afflicted was legally liable to undergo a sacrifice for societal good. The priests would sermon them as ‘dead to the world, but alive in the kingdom of God’. Until late 20th Century, leprosy patients were considered to be unfit for among the rest of the society and were thus ostracized or even burnt alive in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. Leprosy thus not only was a medical ailment, but more it was a social disease that appeared because of the ill-deeds of the person in his/her last birth. Thus leprosy patients were denied of every chance to participate in societal activities, including economic, social, political and religious spheres of life. For no fault of theirs, leprosy patients had no option but to earn money through begging, stealing or through illegal trading in grey market to remain alive. Baba Amte decided to take up the cause of serving leprosy patients for the very fact that he felt disgusted to be a part of a society that was so dispassionate toward the plight of such downtrodden human beings. He regarded the apathy as ‘Mental Leprosy’ by aptly quoting that the most frightening disease is not of losing one’s limbs, but losing one’s strength to feel kindness & compassion for other human beings. Thus was born Maharogi Sewa Samiti, Warora (Leprosy Service Society) for treating leprosy patients and for the whole society afflicted by mental leprosy. And although initially it was a place which was the epitome of human anguish, drudgery and pity, he chose to call it ‘Anandwan’, meaning ‘Forest of Bliss’ (the very first project of MSS).
Consider the honey-bee. Its treasure is nectar, obtained even from the chilly plant. It is not at the cost of the flower. In fact, its act of extracting honey contributes to the progress of the flowers. You need not learn from Kahlil Gibran, Marx or Gorbachev, not even from Gandhiji. Choose instead to learn your lesson from the honey bees as your silent partners: they will show you how to develop without destroying.
— Baba Amte