This Day in History (22-Nov-1988) – Baba Amte wins U.N. Human Rights Award

Muralidhar Devdas Amte, popularly known as Baba Amte, was the eldest son of rich parents. His owned over 450 acres of good cultivable land. At a very young age, Baba Amte owned a gun and used to hunt wild boar and deer. Later, he went on to own an expensive sports car, cushioned with panther skin. He studied Law and started a lucrative practice in Wardha, but was moved by distressed condition of the poor and downtrodden classes of society. Then he relinquished his ceremonial dress and started working with the rag-pickers and sweepers for sometime in Chandrapur district. Later, he resumed practicing but as a “defence lawyer” for the leaders imprisoned in the 1942 Quit India movement.

Baba Amte was deeply influenced by the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. After pursuing a leprosy orientation course at the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine, Baba Amte set up 11 weekly clinics and started working for leprosy. Later in 1951, Baba Amte was given 250 acres of land by the state government on which Amte founded the Anandvan ashram. Inside the ashram premises, two hospitals, a university, an orphanage and a school for the blind were opened.

In the year 1985, Baba Amte started the Bharat Jodo or the Unite India movement beginning from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and then again from Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh in the year 1988. The main objective was to reinstate peace and whip up environmental awareness. In 1990, Baba Amte left Anandvan to join Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andolan. While leaving Anandvan Baba said, “I am leaving to live along the Narmada… Narmada will linger on the lips of the nation as a symbol of all struggles against social injustice.” In place of the dams, the Narmada Bachao Andolan demanded for an energy and water strategy based on improving dry farming technology, watershed development, small dams, lift schemes for irrigation and drinking water, and improved efficiency and utilization of existing dams.

He was awarded with the Padma Shree Award (1971), Damien-Dutton Award (1983) the Ramon Magsaysay award (1985), the Padma Vibhushan (1986), United Nations Human Rights Prize (1988), the Templeton Prize(1990), the Gandhi Peace Prize (1999), and many other humanitarian and environmental prizes.


This Day in History (21-Sep-1995) – Rumors that statues of Ganesh were drinking milk spread in New Delhi

The Hindu milk miracle was a phenomenon reported to have occurred on September 21, 1995. Before dawn, a worshipper at a temple in south New Delhi made an offering of milk to a statue of Lord Ganesha. When a spoonful of milk from the bowl was held up to the trunk of the statue, the liquid was seen to disappear, apparently taken in by the idol. Word of the event spread quickly, and by mid-morning it was found that statues of the entire Hindu pantheon in temples all over North India were taking in milk, with the family of Shiva (Parvati, Ganesha, and Kartikeya) apparently the “thirstiest”.

By noon the news had spread beyond India, and Hindu temples in Britain, Canada, Dubai, and Nepal among other countries had successfully replicated the phenomenon. The apparent miracle had a significant effect on the areas around major temples; vehicle and pedestrian traffic in New Delhi was dense enough to create a gridlock lasting until late in the evening. Many stores saw a massive jump in sales of milk, with one Gateway store in England selling over 25,000 pints of milk, and overall milk sales in New Delhi jumped over 30%. Many minor temples struggled to deal with the vast increase in numbers, and queues spilled out into the streets.

Seeking to explain the phenomenon, scientists from India’s Ministry of Science and Technology travelled to a temple in New Delhi and made an offering of milk containing a food coloring. As the level of liquid in the spoon dropped, it became obvious that after the milk disappeared from the spoon, it coated the statue beneath where the spoon was placed. With this result, the scientists offered capillary action as an explanation; the surface tension of the milk was pulling the liquid up and out of the spoon, before gravity caused it to run down the front of the statue.

The miracle occurred again on 20-21 August 2006 in almost exactly the same fashion, although initial reports seem to indicate that it occurred only with statues of Ganesh, Shiva, and Durga. The phenomenon had reappeared only days after reports of sea water turning sweet that led to mass hysteria in Mumbai.



This Day in History (4-Sep-1833) – Ten-year-old Barney Flaherty was the first newspaper boy in New York

The Museum of the City of New York released the photo in 2012; from their extensive archives, showing a former fixture of New York City life, which got its start on this date in 1833 with an unsung Irish American media pioneer.  The photo’s caption read: “Today in 1833 a 10 year old boy named Barney Flaherty became the first newsboy after responding to an ad in the New York Sun. Newsboys became a prominent fixture in NYC life well into the 20th century. This fellow below was photographed ca. 1890 by Jacob Riis.” The ad in the newspaper read -“To the Unemployed a number of steady men can find employment by vending this paper.” The only job requirement, was that he had to show that he could throw a newspaper into the bushes.

Barney Flaherty was most likely an entrepreneur as well, because newsboys were not newspaper employees but instead free agents who bought their papers at a discount and were unable to return unsold copies. It made for a very rugged life and a sole means of support for many thousands of homeless. Barney couldn’t have realized it at the time, but he paved the way for thousands of newsboys after him in the 19th century.It was a gritty, unglamourous way to make a living: “The majority of these boys live at home, but many of them are wanderers in the streets, selling papers at times, and begging at others,” writes James McCabe in 1873’s  Lights and Shadows of New York Life.

New York City’s newsboys mounted several strikes; the Newsboys Strike of 1899 forced a change in the way leading papers compensated their streetwise sales agents.

The day is marked as ‘Newspaper Carrier Day’. Now, few kids deliver papers anymore except in small towns. But the “Carrier Day” tradition lives. This job is now largely held by adults.



This Day in History (20-Aug-1828) – Brahmo Samaj, the first movement to initiate religio-social reforms, was founded by Ram Mohan Roy in Calcutta

Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a popular social and educational reformer in India who paved the way for progress in India under British rule. Though born in an orthodox brahmin family, Rammohan Roy had shown great sympathy for Islam and Christianity. He had gone to Tibet in search of the Buddhist mysteries. He had extracted from Christianity its ethical system, but had rejected the divinity of Christ as he had denied the Hindu Incarnations. The religion of Islam influenced him, to a great extent, in the formulation of his monotheistic doctrines. But he always went back to the Vedas for his spiritual inspiration. The Brahmo Samaj which was launched into its eventful career on August 20, 1828, gave a concrete expression to Roy’s concept of universal worship. Weekly service was held originally, a practice which has been retained to this day at the Brahmamandir of Tagore’s Shantiniketan.  It consisted of three successive parts, viz. recitation of the Vedas by Telegu Brahmins in the closed apartment exclusively before the Brahmin members of the congregation, reading and exposition of the Upanishads for the general audience, and singing of religious hymns. the only custodian of Vedic rituals in Calcutta at that moment was the orthodox Telegu Brahmin community and its members could not be persuaded to recite the Vedas before Brahmins and non-Brahmins alike.

The Brahmo Samaj is credited with being one of the most important reform movements in India which led to the foundation of modern India. The Brahmo Samaj was a community of people who worship the Brahman, which is referred to as “The unchanging reality amidst and beyond the world”, something which cannot be defined and is the highest reality. It was a reflection of the Bengal Renaissance and took active participation in social emancipation, which included the abolition of sati, the caste system, child marriage, dowry and the betterment of the status of women in society. Brahmosim as a tool to tackle the prevalent dowry system was addressed in noted Bengali writer Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s famous 1914 novel, Parineeta.



This Day in History (27-Jul-1994) – The Parliament votes to ban pre-natal sex determination

According to the decennial Indian census, the sex ratio in the 0-6 age group in India went from 104.0 males per 100 females in 1981, to 105.8 in 1991, to 107.8 in 2001, to 109.4 in 2011. The ratio is significantly higher in certain states such as Punjab and Haryana (126.1 and 122.0, as of 2001) Generally three principle causes are given for skewed ratio: female infanticide, better food and health care for boys and maternal death at childbirth. Prenatal sex determination and the abortion of female fetuses threaten to skew the sex ratio to new highs–with unknown consequences. Recognizing and seeking to control this perilous trend, the government of India outlawed prenatal sex determination on January 1st, 1996. The new law makes it illegal to advertise or perform the tests (with a few exceptions), and punishes the doctor, relatives who encourage the test and the woman herself with fines from ten to fifty thousand rupees and jail terms from three to five years.

Prenatal techniques for sex determination were introduced into India only in the early seventies. Although touted officially as an aid in reducing genetic defects, much of the Indian public has turned to these tests to find out if “It’s a boy” or not. Petitioning against sex selective abortions began in the 1980s, about fifteen years after the techniques of sex determination were widely introduced into the country. Maharashtra State was the only state which prohibited sex determination in 1988, but women used to go to other states where it was still legal. When commercial news of the tests became widespread, many women activists and health activists noticed them. Anti-selective abortion efforts grew to significance when it was discovered that even working class women and middle class women were using such tests. The efforts of such groups led to the parliament voting for ban on the test.



This Day in History (16-Jul-1856) – Ishwar Chand Vidyasagar, on the request of Governor Lord Canning, instituted a law announcing the right of Hindu widows for re-marriage

While studying in Calcutta, In 1828, eight year old Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar lived at the home of a friend whose sister was a child widow. This was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s first experience of the hardships this custom imposed on women. Sometime later, his old guru decided to marry a young girl. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was enraged and demonstrated his anger by refusing his guru’s hospitality. Before a year had passed, the guru died and left behind a girl widow with nowhere to go and no means to support. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar vowed then to devote his life to improving the status of Hindu widows and encouraging re marriage.

When his opponents protested, he insisted they were misinterpreting scripture and employed a masterful command of Sanskrit to point out their ignorance. In his first tract on widow remarriage (1855) Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar claimed that this practice was permissible in Kalyug, the age in which he and his contemporaries lived. 2000 copies of this book was sold in first week, a reprint of 3000 soon sold out and the third reprint was of 10,000 copies. But not everyone was convinced. On the streets of Calcutta, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar found himself insulted, abused and even threatened with death.

But Vidyasagar pressed on and urged the British to pass legislation that will allow Hindu widows to remarry. To support his request, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar collected almost 1000 signatures and sent his petition to the Indian legislative council. The council received thousands of signatures for and against this measure but the members finally decided to support the enlightened minority, The Hindu widow remarriage act was passé in 1856. Although, the value of this act for improving the lives of woman has been questioned, one cannot doubt Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s desire to create a more humane society.