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Padmashri Sindhutai Sapkal passes away at 74: Here is how she came to be known as ‘the mother of orphans’

Sindhutai Sapkal was known for her social work which mainly involved raising orphaned and abandoned children. She left behind a family of more than 1,500 orphans whom she raised, more than 380 sons-in-law and around 50 daughters-in-law.

Veteran social worker – also known as the mother of the orphans – Sindhutai Sapkal passed away at the age of 74 in Galaxy hospital Pune. On 4 January 2022 at 8:15 pm, she had a cardiac arrest. She was under treatment for the last eight days. Dr Shailesh Puntambekar informed the media about her demise. She was recently awarded the fourth highest civilian award Padmashri for the year 2021 by President Ramnath Kovind.

Sindhutai Sapkal was known for her social work which mainly involved raising orphaned and abandoned children. She left behind a family of more than 1,500 orphans whom she raised, more than 380 sons-in-law and around 50 daughters-in-law. Her legacy of nine organizations spread across various locations in Maharashtra carries a decorated outline of more than 700 awards conferred upon her. She was also awarded the honorary doctorate by the D. Y. Patil University Pune. Using all the amount received as the prize money for the welfare of the orphans, she had set an ideal way to be followed by someone who aspires to do social service.

Establishing Gaushalas, adopting orphaned children, rehabilitating tribal villages: The social causes Sindhutai Spakal was associated with

Sindhutai was born to a cow herder Abhimanyu Sathe on 14 November 1948 in Pimpri Meghe (Navargaon) village of Wardha district in Maharashtra. Being an unwanted girl child, she was named Chindhi which literally means a torn piece of waste cloth. She had to quit her formal education in the fourth standard and due to poverty, she was forced to marry at the age of 9 Shrihari Sapkal who was twenty years elder than her. She delivered two of her children before she was 18 and at the age of 20 when she was carrying her third child in her womb, her husband left her on her own. For years to follow, she had to beg for the bread and roamed half of the state – from one railway station to another – as she had no shelter.

It was in 1971 that she gave her daughter to Pratap Godse of Shrimant Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati Devasthan and went to Chikhaldara where she started to work for local tribal and cows. She fought for rehabilitation of the eighty-four tribal villages which were then planned to evacuate for a tiger reserve project. While in Chikhaldara, she started to adopt the orphaned children. She also set up a Goshala in Chikhaldara. Actually, when she was abandoned by her husband, Sindhutai was put in a cowshed at midnight only to die under the feet of enraged and disturbed cattle. Nine months pregnant Sindhutai was saved by a cow. She started this Goshala out of this gratitude towards the cattle.

Her work for raising orphaned children expanded gradually in other parts of Maharashtra and specifically more around Pune where she had eventually set up various non-governmental organisations like Mother Global Foundation, Sanmati Bal Niketan, Mamata Bal Sadan, Saptasindhu Mahila Aadhar, Bal Sangopan and Shikshan Trust. Her foundations situated elsewhere in Maharashtra include Savitribai Phule Girl’s Hostel at Chikhaldara, Abhiman Bal Bhavan at Wardha, Gangadhar Baba Chhatralay at Shirdi, Shri Man Shanti Chhatralaya at Shirur, Vanvasi Gopal Krushna Multipurpose Trust at Amaravati.

Sindhutai, a voracious reader who had a particular flair for poetry

She struggled hard to raise the adopted children. In this journey, she knowingly remained distant from her own child to ensure impartial love and care to everyone she adopted. Having left school in the fourth standard, she had no formal education ahead in her life. She was often bothered by her love for reading by her illiterate husband. But she continued to read whatever piece of paper she could get, even in times of extreme hardships. As she had no home, the only way to keep it all with her was to memorize. This way she went on to recite the poetry that she could correlate to her own life. She was often heard quoting eminent Marathi poets and Saints in her speeches and interviews. She described in her talks that she remembers them all so well because she had lived through all the pain and learned philosophy as described in those lines.

Sindhutai ensured that none of her children remains uneducated. She empowered and enabled every one of them.

With the passage of time, as the number of adopted children increased, she was popularly known as ‘Maai’. PM Modi taking it to Twitter has said, “Dr Sindhutai Sapkal will be remembered for her noble service to the society. Due to her efforts, many children could lead a better quality of life. She also did a lot of work among marginalized communities. Condolences to her family and admirers. Om Shanti.”

She had also toured out of India to collect funds for her work. She was honoured with more than 700 various awards which include the Ahilyabai Holkar Award by the Government of Maharashtra in 2010, Nari Shakti Puraskar by the President of India in 2017 and Padmashri Award 2021 in the social category. Most of her projects are now looked after by her daughter and poetess Mamata Sindhutai Sapkal. A biopic on her life and works was made in 2010 in which Tejaswini Pandit has played her role.

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