A certain surname in India can mean an instant springboard for politics and power, assured stardom sometimes and sometimes a cakewalk through life. Being an Amte, though, would mean carrying forward a legacy, which would purely demand sacrifices and selfless commitment against impossible odds.
After Baba Amte passed away last week, the mantle formally had been passed onto his sons — Vikas, 60 and Prakash, 59. Both have been actively working among poor tribals and peasants of Maharashtra for over 35 years.
Vikas and Prakash are separated by 250 kilometres but the intention bridges the distance and both work in tandem. Classmates through school, both grew up to become doctors. Vikas takes care of Maharoga Sewa Samiti(MSS) at Anandwan of Chandrapur, Maharashtra that was set up by his father to take care of stigmatised leprosy patients.
Moved at seeing the plight of the Madia Gond tribals on a picnic with his father —‘they were living like animals’— Prakash decided to set up Lok Biradari Prakalp in Bahramgarh in 1973.
“Baba always said ‘don’t delegate work, do it yourself because God is too busy,” says Vikas, “I have vowed not to move from this place and work.”
“Baba’s blueprint for Anandwan was expanded so much by Vikas that he was amazed by his son’s vision and ability to execute,” says Neesha Mirchandani, author of Wisdom Song, biography of Baba Amte.
Prakash who had decided to get into social service work as early as age 22 recalls, “For six months this area used to be cut off from the outside world during monsoon with no basic amenities. I was mentally prepared for such a challenge.”
He met his wife Mandakini in the college. “She has been a great support, she was committed to me, so she followed me here,” he says.
“Baba was always worried that Prakash didn’t enjoy life before dedicating himself to service. If Prakash and his wife had not agreed to live in this remote tribal out-post, the Lok Biradari Prakalp would not have survived,” Mirchandani adds.
And now third generation Amtes are also serving in the field. Vikas’ son Kaustubh, a chartered accountant, and Prakash’s sons Digant, a doctor, and Aniket, an engineer — have joined their father’s work. But says Kaustabh: “We are not just a family of four or five but of 4000 and Baba always said ‘responsibilities are not transferable’, so we came back.” Adds Aniket: “Baba wanted to make Anandwan, the health capital of India. We are working towards that.”
“The Amtes may be in charge but it takes many hands to make Baba’s vision a success and they will tell you the same. But the media tends to focus on one or two and it’s not an accurate picture of how Baba’s legacy lives on,” says Mirchandani.
“Neither do we regret Baba’s death nor would he have. He lived a contented life. Baba Amte is a process. One death won’t breach that. One should also not consufe work with individual. We have a direction, reason, logic and purpose,” says Vikas.