Her nickname was 'Chindi', meaning a scrap of rag, but Sindhutai Sapkal became a mother to thousands of orphans
Today, Children’s Day is also the birth anniversary of Padma Shri Sindhutai Sapkal who dedicated her entire life to taking care of orphaned children.
गाँव कनेक्शन 14 Nov 2023 9:29 AM GMT
Today, November 14, is celebrated as Children’s Day across India as it is the birth anniversary of India’s first prime minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru who was very fond of children.
But there is another inspiring person who was born on November 14 and dedicated her entire life to children who were orphans. Sindhutai Sapkal, a social worker and activist, was the mother to a thousand orphan children and is fondly remembered as ‘Mai’ (mother).
Padma Shri Sindhutai is also popularly known as ‘Anathanchi Yashoda' (saviour of the orphans) who never had an easy life.
She was born on November 14, 1948 in Pimpri Meghe village in Wardha district of Maharashtra to Abhimanji Sathe, who was a cowherd. Being an unwanted child, she was nicknamed ‘chindhi’ (torn piece of cloth). She had her share of problems and her childhood wasn’t easy.
Abhimanji was keen on educating Sindhutai and would send her to school under the pretext of cattle grazing, where she would use ‘leaves of Bharadi Tree’ as a slate; the situation was so bad that the family could not afford a real slate because of financial constraints.
Sindhutai’s life was fraught with extreme poverty, responsibilities and an early marriage forced her to quit formal education after fourth grade.
She was married at the age of twelve to a 32-year-old man named Shrihari Sapkal, and had three sons. Her husband abandoned her when she was pregnant for the fourth time at the age of 20. Till that time, Sindhutai had put up a successful agitation against collection of dried cow dung, used as fuel, and its sale in collusion with forest officials without paying anything to the villagers.
Her agitation brought the district collector to her village, who passed an order in her favour, which a landlord in her village did not like. He falsely told her husband that the baby she was carrying was his and then the furious husband thrashed Sindhutai, who was in her ninth month of pregnancy and put her in confinement in a cowshed.
Traumatised by the events, Sindhutai spent a few days in the cowshed while giving birth to a baby girl. Sindhutai took shelter in a crematorium with her baby, Mamata.
Life had to go on and a living had to be made, if not for herself she had to feed her baby so she would sing and beg to make ends meet. The experience marked the beginning of Sindhutai’s mission to care for orphans.
Subsequently, she became “Mai” (mother) for them. Sindhutai would care for them till they grew up to take up jobs, get married and settle in life. It wasn’t an easy journey for her, but Sindhutai set up her first Ashram in Chikhaldara, Amravati.
Her first NGO, Savitribai Phule Girls’ Hostel, was also formed and registered in Chikhaldara. No matter how much hardship she had to go through, the happy faces of her kids kept her going in life. She had once mentioned how hunger made her speak and it was her communication skills that became a primary source of income.
Her institute, Mamata Bal Sadan Saswad in Pune district has its own building with facilities like a computer room, a big hall for cultural activities, solar system, study room and a library.
Sindhutai has received several awards at national and international level for her work along with a Padma Shri in 2021 in the social work category.
A Marathi film, Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, is directed by Anant Mahadevan and released in 2010 is a biopic inspired by the true story of her life. The film was selected for world premiere at the 54th London Film Festival.
Sindhutai breathed her last at a private hospital in Pune on January 4, 2022 after she suffered a heart attack. She was 74 at that time and had been admitted to hospital for over a month following her illness. Sindhutai was laid to rest near Pune.
“I am there for all those who have no one” – Sindhutai Sapkal