Sindhutai Sapkal, “Mother of Orphans” Dies at Age 73

Sindhutai Sapkal
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Social worker Sindhutai Sapkal, who was called the ‘Mother of a thousand orphans’, passed away on Tuesday. Sapkal, who was often referred to just as ‘Sindhutai’ or ‘Mai’ was a Padma Shri awardee. She adopted close to 2,000 orphans and is grandmother to even more.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed grief over Sindhutai’s demise and said she will be remembered for her noble service to society. “Dr. Sindhutai Sapkal will be remembered for her noble service to society. Due to her efforts, many children could lead a better quality of life. She also did a lot of work among marginalised communities. Pained by her demise. Condolences to her family and admirers. Om Shanti,” he tweeted.

Who is Sindhutai and her achievements ?

Born in a poor family in Maharashtra’s Wardha, Sindhutai was much like a lot of girls born in India, who were subjected to discrimination since being born. Sindhutai’s mother was averse to the idea of her going to school or getting an education. Her father, however, was keen on educating her and used to send her to school unbeknownst to her mother, who thought she was going out for cattle grazing. When she was 12-year-old, Sindhutai was forced to quit formal education and marry a man who was 20 years her senior.

After her marriage as a child bride, Sindhutai was sent off to Navargaon to live with her husband. The husband treated her with disrespect. Even as a teenager, she started acting on her cause. She fought against the exploitation of local women by the forest department and the landlords.

When she was 20 and pregnant for the fourth time, rumors of her infidelity spread in the village, believing which Sindhutai’s husband beat his pregnant wife and left her to die. In a bloodied, semi-conscious state, she gave birth to a baby girl in a nearby cow shed.

She tried returning home, but her mother humiliated her and turned her away. With nowhere else to go and a baby to feed, Sindhutai started begging in trains and on the streets in order to survive. Fearing for her safety and that of her daughter, she spent her nights in cemeteries and cowsheds, says a report in India Today.

It was during this time that Sindhutai began spending time with orphaned children. She adopted around a dozen orphans and took on the responsibility to keep them fed, even if that meant begging a lot more.

Eventually, after years, in 1970, well-wishers helped Sindhutai to set up her first Ashram in Chikaldara, Amravati. Her first NGO, Savitribai Phule Girls’ Hostel, was also formed and registered in Chikaldara. Sindhutai has devoted her entire life to orphans. As a result, she is fondly called ‘Mai'(mother). Many of the children whom she adopted are well-educated lawyers and doctors, and some, including her biological daughter, are running their own independent orphanages.

For her exemplary contribution to society, Sindhutai has received more than 270 awards from various national and international organizations, including the Nari Shakti award, India’s highest civilian award dedicated to women, which was presented to her by President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017. Sindhutai was also honoured with the award of Dr. Pinnamaneni and Smt. Seetha Devi Foundation in 2019. ‘Mee Sindhutai Sapkal’, a Marathi movie based on her life was also released in 2010.

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