Sindhu Tai Sapkal, from Pune, is known as the ‘Mother of a thousand orphans.’ She was declared as a winner of the Padmashri award for 2021 on Monday.
Sindhu Tai Sapkal, also called ‘Sindhutai’ or ‘Mai’ is among several people from Maharasthra who have been declared by the Ministry of Home Affairs as winners of the Padmashri awards for 2021. Although her name refers to a thousand, she has adopted nearly 2,000 orphans.
Sindhutai grew up in an impoverished family in Wardha, Maharashtra. Sindhutai, like many other Indian girls, has faced discrimination since birth: Sindhutai’s mother was opposed to her attending school or receiving an education. Her father, on the other hand, was adamant about educating her and used to send her to school, unbeknownst to her mother, who assumed she was going cattle grazing. Sindhutai was forced to abandon formal education at the age of 12 and marry a man 20 years her senior.
Sindhutai was sent to Navargaon, Wardha, to live with her husband after her marriage as a child bride. The husband was abusive to her on numerous occasions.
Sindhutai began fighting for her cause as a teenager, fighting against the exploitation of local women by the Forest Department and landlords.
When she was 20 and pregnant for the fourth time, rumours of her infidelity spread throughout the village, leading Sindhutai’s husband to beat his pregnant wife and abandon her. She gave birth to a baby girl in a nearby chow shed while bloodied and semi-conscious.
Her mother humiliated her and turned her away when she attempted to return home. Sindhutai began begging in trains and on the streets to survive because he had nowhere else to go and a baby to feed.
According to a source, she spent her nights in cemeteries and cowsheds, fearing for her and her daughter’s safety and started spending time with orphaned children around that time. She adopted a dozen orphans and took on the responsibility of feeding them, even if it meant begging even more.
After many years, in 1970, well-wishers assisted Sindhutai in establishing her first Ashram in Chikaldara, Amravati. Savitribai Phule Girls’ Hostel, her first NGO, was also founded and registered in Chikaldara.
Sindhutai has dedicated her entire life to helping orphans. As a result, she is affectionately known as ‘Mai’ (mother). Many of the children she adopted have gone on to become well-educated lawyers and doctors, and some, including her biological daughter, have started their own orphanages.
Sindhutai has received over 270 awards from various national and international organisations for her outstanding contributions to society, including the Nari Shakti award, India’s highest civilian award dedicated to women, which she received in 2017 from President Ram Nath Kovind. Ms. Sindhutai was also honoured in 2019 with the Dr. Pinnamaneni and Smt. Seetha Devi Foundation Award.
In 2010, a Marathi-language film based on her life, ‘Mee Sindhutai Sapkal,’ was released.
In 2019, she told the press, “I have over a thousand children, about 200 sons-in-law, and about 60 daughters-in-law. Nonetheless, my desire to mother more orphans and help those in need does not fade. I would like to adopt all of the society’s orphans. To accomplish this, I will need everyone’s help. Sindhutai’s orphanages and NGO rely on donations from the general public.”
Sindhutai responded to the Padmashri award, saying, “I am overwhelmed after hearing the news of my being given the Padmashri award. It will undoubtedly help to alleviate the hunger of my orphanage children. This award is dedicated to all of those who have helped, supported, and stood firmly behind me up to this point. And to all of my children, who are my rock. Despite the numerous obstacles in my path, I have never given up or stopped working. This award is for my children’s hunger. I will never forget my past and look forward to working even harder for my children. There was hunger and fire in my belly, which I realised was present in all of my children’s stomachs, so I shared my hunger with everyone and began working with orphaned children. While accepting this award, I was reminded of my father. He always told me to fight the situation rather than cry about it. Today, I’m missing him terribly.”