Sindhutai Sapkal, 69, is foster mother of over 1200 orphaned and abandoned children for more than 42 years. Sindhubai still goes from place to place sharing her life’s heartbreaking story.She asks everyone woth a sympathetic heart for money to raise and educate her children. Even though she is a recipient of more than 750 awards, surprisingly she has still not received any government grant.
Sindhutai’s Tragic Early Life
Sindhutai Sapkal was full nine months pregnant when her abusive husband, 20 years older to her, threw her into a cow shed in Navargaon village of Wardha District. He expected her to be kicked and hit by the cows as he himself used to do. The 20-year-old Sindhutai who was already having three kids, fell unconscious in the shed. When she became conscious she had given birth to a baby girl. Sindhutai saw a cow standing over her and her newborn baby, protecting them. She took a sharp-edged stone and hit the umbilical cord many times and it finally snapped from her body. Then, she walked a few kilometers to her mother’s home with her just-born infant. But sadly her mother did not help her either.
Sindhutai took shelter in a crematorium that night where a dead body was being burnt. Being extremely hungry and unable to feed her baby she picked up the flour offered to the corpse kneaded it and baked a chapatti over the fire of the burning corpse and ate.
She traveled in trains, singing and begging, and shared her food with those who had nothing to eat. Sindhutai “I used to be scared of men when I would alight from the trains late at night. I was only 20. I often contemplated committing suicide. But one night, extremely tired, I got down from the train and sat in a corner, a very big roti in my hand. I heard a beggar cry and say that he was sick, dying and had no one. He wanted someone to put two drops of water in his mouth. I walked up to him and said, ‘Baba, why die with just water? I have a roti, you eat it, drink water and then die’.” She fed him and gave him water. The beggar survived. “He did not die! And that set me thinking: ‘If a little help from me could save his life, why do I want to die? I can help people survive’. That day changed my life”.
Being afraid of bad men at night, Sindhutai often slept at cemeteries. “People were afraid to come there at night and sometimes, people who saw me would scream ‘bhoot bhoot’ and run away . Their fear would keep me safe. Zindabad shmashan”, she utters.
Becoming Mother of Orphans
One day, she met a 16-year-old orphaned boy, Deepak, on a railway station. “I felt my daughter too could have met such a fate, and took him under my care. He became my first son,” says Sindhutai. Soon Sindhutai adopted 16 ababdoned children. Her family was growing. So, after three years, she gave away her biological daughter to Shrimant Dagaduseth Halwai Trust of Pune. “I feared my children would feel that I loved my own daughter more than them,” Sindhutai says.
Sindhutai Sapkal continues to travel from one place to the other to give speeches and earn money. “Bhashan hai to ration hai. I share my experiences with people and tell them that I have learnt to live despite all odds, they must learn to live too. After the speech, I spread the pallu of my sari and beg for alms to feed and educate my children. Till date, the government has not given me any grant. Even when I was felicitated by the present government, they took from me in writing that I would not ask for a grant if I was to be felicitated” says the 69-year-old orator Sindhutai.
Registering Her NGO
After 15 years of being homeless, Sindhutai could manage a home for them when a few tribals Sindhutai had helped, gave her a part of their land to use. When people stated asking her for receipts of the money they donated her, Sindhutai Sapkal realized she had to register an NGO, something she did not know. So made an NGO and registered it under name Savitribai Phule Girls’ Hostel under the Foundation, Vanvasi Gopalkrushna Shikshan Evam Kreeda Prasarak Mandal in Chikaldhara in Amravati. Today, her children run four NGOs and Deepak, her first adopted son has named the second one, Mamta Bal Bhawan, after Sindhutai’s daughter, Mamta. Sindhutai has also formed a cow shelter, Gopika Gai Rakshan Kendra to save old cows who would be otherwise sent to the slaughter houses. She brings them to the shelter and takes care of them.
“Even today, the food, education and medical expenses of the children – all depend on maai’s speeches. The day she stops speaking, money will stop coming in. We have never seen God but for us maai is God. I was a one-and-a-half year old child when maai saw me lying on the dead body of my mother at a railway station. She adopted me and performed the final rites of my mother, a stranger to her. She paid for my studies and got me married to a software engineer last year.” says Law graduate Vinay Sindhutai Sapkal. Sindhutai’s children both boys and girls stay with her till they get a job and get married. A few handle her work too.
Filmmaker Ananth Mahadevan’s film on her life, Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, received four national awards. Sindhutai says, “Today, I have 282 sons-in-law and 49 daughters-in-law. In these 42 years, I have raised 1200 children”. When asked Sindhutai where did she get her courage from, she says firmly: “From life beta. And from hunger. Hunger gave me courage”.
Two years ago, Sindhutai’s in-laws and her maternal family honoured her. “I was happy that day. My husband wept throughout the ceremony. I told him: I became big because you left me. Since you are an orphan today, you can come to my ashram – but not as a husband. That is my children’s home and you will come there as my child”. Sindhutai Sapkal now introduces him to people as her oldest son.
Sindhutai Sapkal is a living example of courage in a woman. She has shown the world what a woman is capable of doing. She emerged victorious in the tough examination of life.