Salutations to Sindhutai Sapkal
Sindhutai Sapkal, who is very affectionately known as the “Mother of Orphans”, is an Indian social worker and social activist known particularly for her amazing work in raising orphaned children in India. She was conferred a doctorate in Literature by the DY Patil Institute of Technology and Research in 2016. As I Pen down my viewpoints about Sindhutai, I feel Motherhood need not be felt only through having a biological child rather adopting or serving so many orphans in the society makes you feel you are a mother and a complete woman. Let me in detailed manner take you all to a world which is full of selfless service and great service to mankind especially to deprived children.
Sindhutai Sapkal was born on 14th November 1948 at Pimpri Meghe Village in Wardha district Maharashtra to Abhimanji Sathe, a cowherd by Profession. Being an unwanted child, she was referred to as Chindhi (Marathi for “torn piece of cloth”). However, her father was keen on educating Sindhutai, much against the wishes of her mother. Abhimanji used to send her to school under the pretext of cattle grazing, where she would use the ‘leaf of Bharadi Tree” as a slate to write on it, as she could not afford a real slate because of her financial constraints. Extreme poverty, family responsibilities and an early marriage forced her to quit formal education after she successfully passed the 4th standard. She was married at an early age of ten, she was married to shrihari Sapkal alias Harbaji, a 30-year old cowherd from Navaragaon village in Wardha District. She gave birth to three sons by the time she turned twenty.
At an early age, she revolted against many injustices inflicted on Villagers, like she put a successful agitation against a local strongman who was fleecing the villagers on collection of dried cow dung used as a fuel in India and selling it in collusion with forest department, without paying anything to the villagers. This agitation was brought to the notice of district collector and on realising when she was right, he passed an order which the strongman of village didn’t like. Stung by the insult at the hands of a poor woman, he managed to convince her husband to abandon her, when she was beyond nine months old pregnancy period. She gave birth to a girl child on 14 October 1973 in a cow shelter outside their house that night. But look at the irony of the situation, her own mother refused to give shelter to her own daughter in this distressed state. She didn’t lose hope instead of committing suicide she started begging for food at Railway station.
While she was struggling in her life, to make her ends meet, she realised one grave issue of children in large numbers begging abandoned by their parents. Seeing this situation, she started vigorously begging for food in the Railway station for those abandoned children by their parents, and she adopted all those children as her own and she became mother to everyone who came across as an Orphan. She later donated her biological child to the trust Shrimant Dagdu Sheth Halwai Pune, only to eliminate the feeling of Partiality between her daughter and adopted ones.
Sindhu, who later went on became the Sindhutai or Maai or the mother of the orphans to the world, took shelter in a crematorium that night where a dead body was being burnt. Unable to control her and her daughter’s hunger pangs, she picked up the flour offered to the corpse (Pind-daan), after its relatives left, kneaded it, and baked a bhakri (Chapathi) over the fire of the burning corpse and ate. Life was not treating her the way she should have been treated with, only with miseries of life. Her life was full of struggle, she spent most of the times in Railway stations,singing and begging for food and she immediately shared the food with those who had nothing to eat.
Sindhutai says “I used to be scared of men when I would alight from the trains late at night. I was only 20. I often contemplated committing suicide.” “But one night, extremely tired, I got down from the train and sat in a corner, a very big roti in my hand. I heard a beggar cry and say that he was sick, dying and had no one. He wanted someone to put two drops of water in his mouth. I walked up to him and said,’Baba why die just with water? I have a roti, you eat it, drink water and then die”. She fed and gave him water too. The beggar survived. “He did not die, and that set me thinking” ‘If a little help from me could save his life, why do I want to die? I can help people survive’. That day changed my life”.
Sindhutai was very scared of being picked up by menfolk in the night time, show would often spend the night at cemeteries. “People were afraid to come there at night and sometimes, people who saw me would scream ‘bhoot bhoot’ and run away. Their fear would keep me safe. Zindabad shamshaan”, she says. To her surprise one day she found a sixteen-year old boy by name Deepak on a railway track. “I felt my daughter too could have met such a fate, and took him under my care. He became my first son”, she says. Now to her surprise she become the mother of sixteen adopted children. Her brood was growing. So, after three years, she gave away her own daughter, Mamta to shrimant Dagduseth Halwai Trust of Pune. “I feared my children would feel that I loved my own daughter more than them says Sindhutai.
Let me throw some light on her Accomplishments—
A winner of over 750 Awards including one from the President Pranab Mukherjee, Sindhutai continues her endeavour of travelling from Village to village to give lectures and earn money. “Bhashan hai to ration hai”, says the 69-year old brilliant orator. “I share my experiences with people and tell them that I have learnt to love despite all odds, they must learn to live too. After the speech, I spread the pallu of my sari and beg for alms to feed and educate my children. Till date, the government has not given me any grant. The present Government felicitated me. After fifteen years of homelessness, her children got the first roof on their head when a few tribals Sindhutai had helped, gave her a part of their land to live on. When people began asking her for receipts for the money they gave her, Sindhutai realized she had to register an NGO, Savitribai Phule Girls Hostel under the foundation, Vanvasi Gopalkrishna Shiskshan Evam Kreeda Prasarak Mandal in Chikaldhara in Amravati.
This is quite amazing to see that today her children run 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 takes care of these cows.
Let’s read various voices which are so inspiring to me and many of you while reading those emotions expressed by various people—
“Even Today, the food, Education and medical expenses of the children—all depend on Maai’s speeches. The day she stops speaking, Money will stop coming in”, says Law graduate Vinay Sindhutai Sapkal”.
“We have never seen God but for us Maai is God. I was one and half a year-old child when Maai saw me lying on the dead body of my mother at a railway station. She adopted me and performed the final rites of my mother, a stranger to her. She paid for my studies and got me married to a software Engineer last year”, he adds. Unlike in other orphanages, sindhutai’s children stay with her till they get a job and get married. A few people handle her work too.
Filmmaker Ananth Mahadevan’s film on her life, Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, received four National awards.” Her life seemed so unreal say Ananth Mahadevan.
Sindhutai proudly say, “today, I have 282 sons-in-law and 49 daughters-in-law. In these 42 years, I have raised 1200 children”. When Sindhutai is asked where she gets the courage to do all these acts, she says in a mild voice-
“From life beta. And from hunger. Hunger gave me courage.”
I want to pour my thoughts over and over but need to conclude by taking a biggest lesson of my life is that I will value my life which gave me food, shelter, education, and most importantly a family which is fully supportive of my Actions, irrespective of my mistakes in my life so far. My honest confession is that I will work towards a bit when I see a child begging on the streets for alms, by bringing some change in their lives, at least thinking and acting upon. A truly Inspiring story in my lifetime. Salutations to Sindhutai Sapkal.
Maa, Tujhe Vandan
Dr. Sukanya Iyer