The Inspiring Story of Padma Shri Awardee Sindhutai Sapkal, Mother of Orphans
They say some people are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them. With Padma Shri Sindhutai Sapkal, we believe all three come naturally.
Sindhutai Sapkal will always be remembered as a beacon of love, hope and selflessness. Her story is inspiring and so is her kindness, that shone through the darkest and weakest moments of her life. Her journey was challenging right from the beginning, as she was born around a time when most parts of India discouraged educating their girls and women. Yet, she was keen on learning and received formal education till 4th grade, thanks to her father who supported her dreams.
Married at the age of 12, Sindhutai Sapkal was a mother to three sons before she turned 20. But child marriage and household responsibilities did not weigh her down. Bold as ever, she fought for the rights of women in her village which resulted in her being removed from her family while she was carrying her first girl child. Abandoned by her husband and shunned from her village, Sindhutai Sapkal decided to return to her maternal home with her newborn daughter, but there too, her mother refused to accept her.
Alone and forgotten with a baby girl, Sindhutai Sapkal was left with no option but to work for herself. Her beautiful voice was her asset, and for many years she sang and begged to make ends meet. She took her daughter to railway platforms, temples, and surrounding villages, sang songs for whatever little money or food, and fed them both. While traveling, she came across countless young children who were abandoned by their families, begging for food just like her. She felt for them all like she felt for her daughter and started adopting orphans to look after them. She took them under her wing, taught them what she knew and struggled to feed them and herself.
Sindhutai Sapkal — affectionally called Mai by her many children — was unlike anybody else. She took care of thousands of orphans, fought for the rehabilitation of 84 Adivasi villages, and adopted all the orphan children from affected Adivasi tribes to give them a better life. Her efforts over the years and her natural flare for singing kept her going, fed, and helped educate her children, and above all, gave them hope. She won awards for her work and used all the award money to set up an orphanage that has no age bar. The children in her orphanage range from infants who are only days old to people in their late 80s. She shaped her life to be a mother to over 1500 children.
She focused on raising children who are educated, well-read, and have equal footing in an otherwise unfair world. Her children stay at the orphanage for years, some till they receive their Ph.D. and others till they get married. Many of her children, recognizing the importance on education, followed her footsteps and are educators, caretakers, professors, teachers, and lecturers today.
Her kindness and empathy know no bounds, and she decided early on that no matter where life takes her, she will be kind, forgiving, and pleasant. Until the very end, she instilled this way of living in all her children and encouraged them to embrace marginalization, poverty, and their many struggles. She learned from her suffering and that’s what she taught them.
Mai received over 700 awards for her work, and in 2021 was awarded a Padma Shri for her dedication and devotion to those who need homes. Perhaps the most telling hint of her personality is what she did when her husband who abandoned her, found his way back to her. Mai simply accepted his apology and called him her oldest child, claiming she was nothing but a mother to all. Mai passed away on 4th January 2022. A beautiful soul who shall be remembered fondly.