Mother of orphans

Sindhutai Sapkal : The Mother of Orphans and her legacy

India is the second most populous country in the world, and a significant part of this population are children. It is harrowing, however, to witness that a chunk of these children are orphans or abandoned as they grow up as poverty stricken.

The story of Sindhutai Sapkal is an evidence of similar dejection

Early life of Sindhutai Sapkal

Sindhutai Sapkal, the Mother of Orphans, was born on October 31st, 1902 in a small village called Murud near Ratnagiri in India. Her father’s name was Balambhatrao Sapkal and she had three siblings. Sindhutai lost her mother when she was only six, which gave her a very good reason to spend a lot of time with her grandmother.

The family life for Sindhutai changed drastically when she got married to Gajanan Sakhare at the age of thirteen. She gave birth to four children who died soon after that due to an infectious disease that swept through the village. As a result of these unfortunate events, Sindhutai’s husband died of grief soon after that.

Work with Adivasis

After the traumatic fire, Sindhutai Sapkal was moved to Chikhaldara and began begging on the railway platforms for food and other necessities. She soon realized that many children were abandoned by their parents and adopted them as her way of giving them a second chance. She then begged more vigorously to feed them. She became a mother to all who she came across as an orphan. It was also her wish to donate her child to the trust Shrimant Dagdu Sheth Halwai, Pune – just so that there would be no feeling of “lesser than” between the biological child and the adoptee.

Details of Sapkal’s struggle were provided in the weekly Optimist Citizen on 18 May 2016:

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. Sapkal decided to fight for proper rehabilitation of the helpless tribal villagers. Her efforts were acknowledged by the Minister of Forests and he made appropriate arrangements for alternative relocation.

Sapkal fought for the rehabilitation of eighty-four villages.In the course of her agitation, she met Chhedilal Gupta, the then Minister of Forests. He agreed that the villagers should not be displaced before the government had made appropriate arrangements at alternative sites. When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi arrived to inaugurate the tiger project, Sapkal showed her photographs of an Adivasi who had lost his eyes to a wild bear.

She is quoted as saying,

“I told her that the forest department paid compensation if a cow or a hen was killed by a wild animal, so why not a human being? She immediately ordered compensation.”

After being informed of the plight of orphaned and abandoned Adivasi children, Sapkal took care of the children in return for meager amounts of food. Shortly thereafter, it become the mission of her life.

The Big Family

Sapkal devoted herself to orphans. As a result, she was fondly called “Mai”, which means “mother”. She nurtured over 1,500 orphaned children and through them had a grand family of 382 sons-in-law and 49 daughters-in-law. She has been honoured with more than 700 awards for her work. She used award money to buy land to make a home for orphaned children.

Sindhutai Sapkal

The legacy

Sindhutai Sapkal, better known as ‘Anathanchi Maye’ or ‘Mother of orphans’, passed away following a heart attack at a private hospital in Pune on Tuesday. She was 74. She was known for her work in raising hundreds of orphans, abandoned and destitute children, as well as towards rehabilitation of women.
Sindhutai died at 8.10 pm.

She had undergone a surgery on November 24, 2021 for a large diaphragmatic hernia. She had recovered well, but about a week ago, she developed a lung infection. She suffered a massive cardiac arrest on Tuesday 4th January 2022 and passed away, said Dr Shailesh Puntambekar, medical director of Galaxy Care hospital.

Paying tribute to Sindhutai, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted,

“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”.

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