At 73, Sindhutai Sapkal, is a woman of courage and valour, a mother of thousands of orphans, a social activist and a Ted Speaker. But her life’s journey was filled with hardships.
As a 10-year-old, Sindhu was married to a man much older than her at an age when she could only think of playing with her friends and nothing else in life. At this tender age, she was a wife to a thirty-year-old man who only beat her, abused her and threw her out of the house when she turned 20 and was nine months pregnant.
She gave birth to a baby girl in a cow shelter outside their house the same day and walked a little distance in that condition to her parent’s house seeking shelter. But her parents refused to give shelter to her for the fear of being stigmatized by society.
Sindhutai’s story is one of grit and determination. She was born on 14 November 1948 in a cattle-grazing family in Maharashtra’s Wardha district. As her family was facing abject poverty, she was considered the unwanted child. Her family forced her to marry at the tender age of ten to a man twenty years her senior.
By the time she turned 20, she was the victim of domestic violence as her alcoholic husband used to beat her a lot. Her husband abandoned her and was she left to die. She gave birth to a baby girl in a semi-conscious state in a cow shelter outside their house on the night of 14 October 1973. She began begging for food on railway platforms because she needed to feed her child. She had no home to protect her. Because she feared being picked up by men at night, she often spent the night at cemeteries.
While begging at railway stations, she found out that there were many orphans and children abandoned by their parents. She could feel their suffering because she had gone through similar experiences and wanted to adopt them. She became more earnest in her work in order to feed the several children she had adopted. She gradually chose to adopt every child she came across as an orphan, and she became known as the “mother of orphans” over time.
She has adopted and raised more than 1,400 orphans. She ventured into assisting them in obtaining good education as she didn’t want anybody to be uneducated or illiterate. She didn’t stop with that alone. She even got them married so that she was happy to see them settle down in life. She was determined and had a will to serve helpless people and make them successful people.
Sindhutai is affectionately called by everyone as “mai” (mother). What amazes everybody is that despite facing so many struggles in raising and feeding these kids, she never gives them up for adoption. She treats them as if they were her children, and some of them have gone on to become lawyers, doctors, and engineers.
“I realised there are so many orphans who have nowhere to go when I was out on the streets asking for food and struggling for survival every day. Sindhutai adds, “I decided to take care of them and raise them as my own.”
“I have over a thousand children, about 200 sons-in-law and about 60 daughters-in-law. Yet, my desire to mother more orphans and reach out to needier doesn’t die.” says the septuagenarian
Today, Sindhutai stands proud with her large family of 207 sons-in-law, 36 daughters-in-law, and over 1000 grandkids thanks to her love and compassion. She continues to strive for the next meal to this day. She doesn’t ask for help from anyone, but she still gives speeches to make ends meet.
From Leading Social Contributor Award 1992 to Padma Shri in 2021, She has been honored with more than 900 National and International awards for her dedication and work. She utilized the award money to buy land to make a home for orphaned children.