The story of Sindhutai Sapkal - A mother to orphaned children

  • Sindhutai was married at ten, abandoned by her husband at twenty, became mother at the same age and had nowhere to go. She begged for a living. The Divine however, had different plans for her. She adopted one child and gradually it became a movement. Without any government support and by sharing her life’s story through talks she opened orphanages and brought up over 1,200 children. It only goes to show that life is what you make out of it.

Childhood is a blissful phase of life. Parents love and pamper their children and make them the centre of their world. However, the same childhood can be horrifying when a child has no parents. There is no greater sorrow than being an orphan or leading a life without shelter. Having said that, the Divine sends people to Mother Earth to make a difference. Sindhutai is one such person; by becoming a mother to orphans Sindhutai became God’s gift to thousands of orphaned children.  


Who is Sindhutai Sapkal?


She is a renowned and a devoted social worker who focuses on prioritizing the lives of orphaned children. Her decision to look after orphaned children was triggered by her own life experiences. During her childhood Sindhutai went through phases where she missed having someone by her side. In one of her interviews she said that it was at such times that she realized what it meant to be abandoned. Having suffered thus, she made it her life’s mission to stand by needy and homeless children.


Her greatness and kind nature is reflected in one of her speeches. She said, ‘I am with everyone who has no other people to look after them’.


Early life and struggles 


Sindhutai was born on 14th November 1948 in a cattle grazing family in Maharashtra’s Wardha district. Her father was keen to educate her but mother was not. At the age of ten she was married to a man twenty years her senior. Post marriage she faced a difficult life but she did not lose hope. In her new home she fought against the exploitation of local women, who collected cow dung, by the forests department and landlords.


This only made things more difficult for her.


At the young age of twenty, when nine- months pregnant, she was beaten badly and left to die by her husband. She gave birth to a baby girl Mamta in that semi-conscious state and struggled to stay alive. Sindhutai took to begging on the streets and railway platforms to survive. Because she feared being picked up by men at night she often spent the night at cemeteries. Such was her condition that people called her a ghost since she was seen at night in the cemeteries.


“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 trying times that she realized how difficult it would be for abandoned children and or orphans and decided to do something for them.  Her first adopted child was Deepak, whom she found on a railway track. Quite soon she had adopted sixteen children.


So Sindhutai started taking care of children in return for some food. Looking after these kids soon became the mission of her life. She opened her first ashram at Chikaldhara. People who donated money asked her for a receipt so she realized the need for an NGO.


“So she formed & registered her first NGO, Savitribai Phule Girls’ Hostel under the Foundation, Vanvasi Gopalkrushna Shikshan Evam Kreeda Prasarak Mandal in Chikaldhara in Amravati. Today, her children run four NGOs and Deepak, her first adopted son who refused to leave her on growing up, has named the second one, Mamta Bal Bhawan, after her daughter, Mamta. Sindhutai has also formed a cow shelter, Gopika Gai Rakshan Kendra to save old cows that are being sent to the slaughter houses. She brings them to the shelter and cares for them.1


This way Sindhu became Sindhutai or Maai or mother of orphans.


Many of her adopted children are now highly qualified for e.g. doctors and lawyers. Some adopted children have started orphanages of their own.


When Sindutai’s husband returned and asked for forgiveness she was gracious enough to forget and forgive.


Sindhutai - A living example of humanity and love


Sindhutai’s life story is one of incredible grit and willpower. She showed how adversity brings out the best in us and dedicated her life to adopting & nurturing orphans. Further, she constructed more than six orphanages in Maharashtra where orphaned children are given food, shelter, and education. Her organization also gave shelter to numerous women, who are destitute and abandoned.


Running these shelter homes is not an easy task; she works hard to raise funds for her orphanages. Instead of taking financial help from anyone, she gave powerful and inspiring speeches in the form of sharing her life’s story. At the end of her speeches, “she spreads the loose end of her sari and asks for alms to feed and educate her children.” She appeals to people to help the underprivileged and neglected sections of the society.


In yet another outstanding speech she said that she wanted her story to be shared widely so that others are motivated to overcome the difficulties of life. Her fame has never affected her persona. Sindhutai’s happiness lies in being with her children, fulfilling their dreams and settling them down in life.


In spite of a series of struggles that she faced in fulfilling her mission, Sapkal has adopted over 1,100 orphan children. Presently, she has a grand family of 207 sons-in-law, 36 daughters-in-law, and more than 1050 grandchildren. The best thing is that many of them are serving society in different ways. Some of them have become lawyers, doctors while others started their own shelter homes.


Awards and recognition


Sindhutai’s extensive social work has been recognized through over 750 awards. She received the prestigious national award for Iconic Mother and Mother Teresa Awards for Social Justice in 2013. Sapkal was conferred a Doctorate in Literature by the DY Patil Institute of Technology and Research, Pune in 2016.


She also got an award known as ‘The Mind of Steel’ in 2010. True to the award’s name, Sindutai has a mind of pure steel. In order to acknowledge her remarkable contribution to society she was given the prestigious Ahilyabai Holkar award by the Maharashtra government in 2002. Sapkal also received the Ahmadiyya Peace Prize at the National Peace Symposium held at London in 2014.


Recently, on International Women's Day 2018, President Ram Nath Kovind honoured women achievers with Nari Shakti Puraskar. Sindhutai was one of the thirty nine women achievers who received this prestigious award.


The Marathi movie Mee Sindhutai Sapkal was based on her life. The film was selected for the 54th London Film Festival. Film maker Ananth Mahadevan said, “She has changed my life. Today she is maai to me and I am her bala. It is ironical that after making ten Hindi films, that one Marathi film you make gets you four national awards. Somewhere our lives were destined to meet”. 1


In 42 years she has raised about 1,200 children. Her inspiring journey shows that for a committed individual nothing is impossible. Sindhutai is an epitome of Humanity. From being a deprived wife to begging on the streets, she has now become a ‘Mother of orphans and helpless’ children. Even at 70 she has the same drive to do something good for society.


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