Sindhutai Sapkal, affectionately known as Sindhutai, was a remarkable Indian social worker and activist whose life story is a testament to the enduring power of love, resilience, and compassion. Born on 14th November 1948 in Pimpri Meghe, Wardha district, she overcame adversity and dedicated her life to caring for orphaned and abandoned children in India. Her journey was an extraordinary one, filled with challenges, heartaches, and immense triumphs.
Sindhutai was born into abject poverty, and her parents, facing dire circumstances, referred to her as "Chindhi," which translates to "piece of rag" in Marathi. The challenges she faced were not only economic but also personal. She was married off at the tender age of 12 to Shrihari Sapkal, a man two decades her senior. Her marriage was far from ideal, and at the age of 20, she was forcibly expelled from her home by her husband, leaving her alone to care for her daughter.
Sindhutai's life took a dramatic turn when she found herself in Chikhaldara, where she began begging for food. It was here that she encountered a heartbreaking reality: countless children had been abandoned by their parents. Moved by their plight, she adopted them as her own. To feed her ever-growing family, she had to beg even harder, but her determination knew no bounds.
Notably, she took the extraordinary step of giving away her own daughter to the Shrimant Dagdu Sheth Halwai Trust in Pune, as she did not want to show any partiality between her biological child and the many adopted children she had taken under her wing.
Sindhutai's journey was not limited to mothering orphaned children. She became an advocate for the rights and welfare of tribal villagers who were displaced from their homes due to a tiger preservation project. Her tireless efforts and resilience led to acknowledgement from the Minister of Forests, who made arrangements for alternative relocation for these helpless tribal villagers.
Her advocacy extended to highlighting the plight of orphaned and abandoned Adivasi children, and she provided them with care in exchange for meagre amounts of food. This marked the beginning of her lifelong mission.
Sindhutai's selflessness and dedication led to her being affectionately referred to as "Mai," meaning "mother." Over her lifetime, she nurtured and cared for more than 1,500 orphaned children. Through her love and compassion, she created a vast family, with 382 sons-in-law and 49 daughters-in-law.
Her extraordinary work earned her more than 700 awards and honours. Notably, she used the award money to purchase land to establish homes for orphaned children.
Sindhutai Sapkal's legacy extended beyond her own lifetime. She founded several organisations dedicated to the welfare of children and the marginalised in society, leaving a lasting impact on countless lives.
On 4th January 2022, Sindhutai Sapkal passed away from a heart attack in Pune, Maharashtra, at the age of 73. Her departure left a void, but her legacy continues to inspire and guide those who work for the welfare of the less fortunate.
Sindhutai Sapkal's extraordinary contributions were recognised through numerous awards, including the prestigious Padma Shri in 2021. She received the Nari Shakti Puraskar from the President of India in 2017 and an honorary doctorate from Dr. D. Y. Patil College of Engineering, Pune, in 2016. Her selfless work was also acknowledged with the Social Worker of the Year award from the Wockhardt Foundation in 2016, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Prize in 2014, and the Mother Teresa Awards for Social Justice in 2013.
Her life was a testament to the power of one individual's love and determination to transform the lives of the marginalised and abandoned. Sindhutai Sapkal's story continues to inspire and remind us of the boundless possibilities of compassion and selflessness.