Remembering Baba Amte’s Granddaughter Sheetal, Who Worked Tirelessly for Leprosy Patients & Forest Conservation

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Remembering Baba Amte’s Granddaughter Sheetal, Who Worked Tirelessly for Leprosy Patients & Forest Conservation

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

The Maharogi Seva Samiti (MSS), one of India’s largest non-profit organisations, was struck by tragedy this week when its CEO Dr Sheetal Amte, 39, was found dead at her residence in Anandwan, Maharashtra. Amte was the granddaughter of Baba Amte, the social activist who came to be known as “the modern Gandhi of India” for his work in helping those afflicted with disease and poverty. After his death in 2008, management of MSS passed to his surviving family members, including his two sons, Vikas and Prakash Amte, and their children. However, Sheetal had been involved in a conflict with her family members over MSS’s management only days before her demise, which many news reports are calling a suicide. But The Indian Express reported that the Nagpur Police have not yet ruled her death as a suicide, and have currently registered a case of accidental death.

Though the events leading up to Sheetal Amte’s death are tragic, she spent years before that carrying forward her grandfather’s legacy of social work and helping uplift downtrodden members of society. At Anandwan, around 125 kilometres from Nagpur, MSS set up a space for marginalised populations – leprosy patients, physically handicapped individuals, members of tribal communities – to make a livelihood. Sheetal Amte was closely involved in transforming Anandwan into a smart village, with a focus on technological efficiency, economic productivity, and reducing environmental impact in the settlement.

In 2016, Amte was chosen by the World Economic Forum as one of their “Young Global Leaders”. In addition to her work with MSS, she also founded two leadership training programmes for medical professionals in India called “Mashaal” and “Chirag”. At Anandwan, she adapted a Japanese model of afforestation through dense plantation of native trees for Indian conditions. Her model was later adopted by the Maharashtra state government and dubbed the Anandwan Dense Forest Model.

Along with her achievements as a social worker, Amte was also an artist in her private life, sharing her paintings on social media.

As the police continue to investigate her apparent suicide, it’s clear that Dr Sheetal Amte is gone too soon.

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