Padma Shri Sindhutai Sapkal was the beacon of love, compassion and hope. The lady raised and nurtured around 1500 orphans. Her relentless mission to work for the people and their livelihood is a fitting reminder that one can be the good they want to see in the world. Today, we honor and remember ‘Maai’ and her amazing life journey.
India is the second most populated country in the world and a significant part of this population are children. But it is appalling to witness the fact that a chunk of these children is usually orphaned or abandoned and are forced to live in poverty and face continuous abjection from society.
The story of Sindhutai Sapkal is an evidence of similar dejection. Born on 14th November 1948, Sindhutai saw this world from the eyes of a cattle grazing family in the Wardha district of Maharashtra. Always considered unnecessary, she was named ‘Chindi’, which means a torn cloth, by the society. But the young Sindhutai’s hunger to learn more was omnipresent. Her father was keen to educate her, but her mother opposed this. Hence was able to complete her education only till Class 4th and at the nascent age of 10 years, she was married off to a man of 30 years.
Even after being crushed and chained by the shackles of child marriage, young Sindhutai never lost hope. Instead her passion to the help the helpless and wronged aggravated. Settling in the Navargaon forest in Wardha after marriage, she strongly opposed the exploitation of village women, who collected cow dung, by the Forest department and the Landlords in 1972. Little did she knew, that her fight would change her life for the worse. During her pregnancy, a nasty rumor of infidelity was circulated by an angry landlord. This raised a rejection for her from the community. Even her husband abandoned her. Beaten, she gave birth to her daughter Mamta on 14th October 1973 in a cowshed. Sindhutai went back to her maternal home, but there too she faced an unapologetic rejection from her mother. Feeling lost and betrayed, Sindhutai started singing and begging in trains and on the streets just to make ends meet. She continued to fight for herself and her daughter’s existence and made train stations, cowsheds and cemeteries her home.
In this constant tussle to survive, she found herself in Chikaldara, situated in the Amravati district of Maharashtra. Here, due to a tiger preservation project, 84 tribal villages were evacuated. Amidst the confusion, a project officer impounded 132 cows of Adivasi villagers and one of the cows died. Sindhutai decided to fight for a proper rehabilitation of the helpless tribal villagers. Her efforts were acknowledged by the Minister of Forests and he made appropriate arrangements for alternative relocation.
It was during these experiences of poverty, abjection and homelessness that Sindhutai came across dozens of helpless orphans and women who were blatantly ignored by the society. She started adopting these orphans and worked and sometimes begged incessantly to feed them. To avoid partiality towards her biological daughter, Sindhutai sent her daughter to trust in Pune. After years of hard work, she raised her first Ashram at Chikaldara. She travelled across villages and cities to raise money for her Ashrams. Many a time she even had to fight for the next meal due to lack of funds. But Sindhutai never stopped. Till date, she has adopted and nurtured over 1200 orphaned children. They fondly call her ‘Maai’. Many of her adopted children are now lawyers and doctors. Now her biological daughter and the adopted children are running orphanages of their own.
Sindhutai Sapkal has received around 270 awards from various national and international organizations. A Marathi film “Mee Sindhutai Sapkal” was also released as her biopic in 2010. She has founded numerous organizations across Maharashtra which provide education and shelter to thousands of orphans. Even today, at the age of 67, Sindhutai Sapkal works relentlessly to shape the future of these orphans because she believes that a deprived child means a deprived nation.