“A mother’s hidden hope outlives them all,” the proverb goes. “Youth fades; love droops; the leaves of friendship fall.” O. Wendell Holmes
The aforementioned is meant as an homage to all moms, despite the fact that there are no words to adequately describe her and that only the lucky are able to live and be raised by one. Those who receive the full affection of their biological parent are fortunate. For over 4% of India’s young population—more than 30 million orphaned and abandoned children—live there. The exact number of children who have become orphans since the Covid-19 epidemic hit in 2020 is still unclear.
But happily, there are wonderful people who adopt these children and take on the role of their moms.
We are sharing the life narrative of Mother Teresa of Maharashtra, Sindhutai Sapkal (1948–2022), in honour of Mother’s Day. She adopted and nurtured more than 1400 orphans over the course of her 40-year life. This comprises 36 daughters-in-law, 207 sons-in-law, and more than 1050 orphaned children. She has received more than 750 awards for her extraordinary journey, including the Padma Shri and Nari Shakti Award.
Sindhutai Sapkal, who was a cowherd by trade, was born on November 14, 1948, in the Wardha district of Maharashtra’s Pimpri Meghe village to Abhimanji Sathe. She was given the moniker “Chindhi” because of her difficult upbringing and treatment as an unwanted kid (a torn piece of cloth).
But thankfully, despite her mother’s protests, Sindhutai’s father was determined to educate her. Her father, Abhimanji, used to take her to school while pretending that she was grazing cattle, and she would use “leaves of the Bharadi Tree” as a slate because she couldn’t buy a genuine slate for economic reasons. She had to drop out of school after the fourth grade due to her extreme poverty, obligations, and an early marriage.
At age 12, she was married off to Shrihari Sapkal aka Harbaji, who was more than twice her age. From the hamlet of Navargaon in the Wardha District, Harbaji was a cowherd. She later gave birth to three boys with him by the time she was 20.
Cow dung allowance agitation and the aftermath
Sindhutai possessed a strong will even as a teenager. She successfully protested the collecting of dried cow dung, which is used as fuel in India, and its sale in league with the forest department without compensating the peasants. She had to pay a price and accept a prize in exchange for this.
When the district collector realized I was correct and visited the community as a result of my agitation, he issued a ruling in our favour. This offended the local strongman who had persuaded my husband to leave me after I had gone over the nine-month mark in my pregnancy. He placed me in a cowshed after beating and kicking me on my full-term belly. I was in excruciating agony and had a mental fog. A newborn girl was next to me when I woke up, being watched over by a cow. I severed my umbilical cord with a stone with a lot of effort, and then I passed out again,” Sakpal said in an interview.
She had to return to her mother’s house after her husband left her, but there she was outcast. She was left to care for her little kid all by herself in the outside world. Both she and her daughter were famished. She felt shattered and was on the verge of passing out.
Begging, living in crematory, and railway station
She did not lose hope and went to the railway station to take shelter. There she would sing and beg to feed herself and her child.
“I had a child and was in my 20s. Even though I was able to travel during the day, I was terrified to spend the night in the station. I sought refuge in a crematory because I was afraid of the males. Because no male would go there, I decided on it. After many days of this, I finally spotted a pyre. The last ceremonies were completed, and the deceased’s family members had left. They had left some flour as a gift, which I accepted, mixed with water, and baked into a roti over the fire that was still engulfing the corpse. Scavengers arrived to eat the remnants, and next to me, vultures were feasting on a dead cow. I had to leave at that time and muster the resolve to go on anyhow, Sindhutai recalled.
“Yes, I’ve had several deaths wishes. But I always came up short. I once tried to kill myself as a man was begging for food. I gave him some roti and water, and he started to feel the desire to breathe,” she continued.
Sindhutai would go by rail, go to temples, beg, and sing. Other beggars frequently joined her, and she fed them with everything she had. She was lost for many months and maybe years.
When all the beggars at the station went to bed at night, Sindhutai would stay awake and tend to the sick, the hungry, and the helpless children who had been left there without parents to watch over them. With each passing day, the numbers increased, and Sindhutai began to fear for her own kid.
“I used to worry that my daughter would begin to get possessive of me and I also worried about how she would be raised. At that point, I gave the Shrimant Dagaduseth Halwai Trust custody of my young daughter, Mamata, so that they could properly care for her. I requested that you watch after my child, and in exchange, Sakpal promised to look after other children.
As a result of a series of events, Sindhutai began helping the poor and orphans. In any manner she could, she provided them with food and shelter. With the aid of donations, her own money from odd jobs, and her singing on trains, she opened her own orphanage.
Her spouse apologized and came back to her when she was 70. She acknowledged him as her kid and said that she was now solely his mother. He was referred to as her oldest kid.
She educated the children and provided them a good childhood. Many of the kids she adopted went on to become professors and attorneys, and others, like her biological daughter, now operate their own independent orphanages. A Ph.D. on her life is being written by one of her children.
Tai used the prize money to purchase land so she could build a house for her orphan children. At Manjari, Pune, the kids now have their own building with all the amenities, including a computer room, a hall for cultural events, a solar system, a water filter, a library, a study room, and more.
The adored “Aai,” “Anathanchi Maye,” or “Mother of orphans” performed even more miracles. In contrast to most orphanages, Sindhutai retains her wards until they get employment, get married, or otherwise make their way in the world.
In January, she passed suddenly in a private hospital in Pune after suffering a heart attack, leaving behind an incredible legacy. Today, her son Deepak, daughter Mamata, and other kids are carrying it on.
“On May 15, two girls from our orphanage are scheduled to get married. According to Laukik Shah of The Mother Global Foundation for Life Beyond Numbers, “We received hundreds of profiles from which we selected the grooms. For her efforts, a foundation is established.
Sindhutai Sapkal’s life story served as the basis for the Marathi biopic “Mee Sindhutai Sapkal,” which was released in 2010. The 54th London Film Festival hosted the international premiere of the movie.
Sindhutai Sapkal’s life was the inspiration for the Marathi biopic “Mee Sindhutai Sapkal,” which was published in 2010. On opening night of the 54th London Film Festival, the movie was shown.
SINDHUTAI SAPKAL, THE MOTHER OF ORPHANS WHO MADE HISTORY
Some life experiences are powerful enough to alter our perspective of the world. They demonstrate the effectiveness of empathic actions and show that anybody, regardless of station in life, has the potential to significantly alter society.
While we frequently hear about the efforts made by the government, international organizations, and celebrities to elevate the underprivileged, we hardly ever hear about the lesser-known superheroes who don’t leave a paparazzi trail. One such person is Sindhutai Sapkal, who has dedicated her whole life to assisting India’s underprivileged orphans.
Sapkal, who is often referred to as main and whose Marathi name means “mother,” is a natural competitor with high levels of tenacity and resolve. She didn’t go to school and isn’t very knowledgeable about politics or feminism, but her thinking and comprehension of social issues have always been much above what any current educated person could comprehend. She has earned the title of “Mother of Orphans” and personifies what “selfless love” entails.
Journey towards becoming the mother of Orphans
When Sapkal was dumped by her spouse and cast out into the streets in her early twenties, she began her career as a social activist. When the world abandoned her and left her to die, she was nine months pregnant. But despite all chances, this strong woman managed to live without the aid of a single person. She then gave birth to a baby girl in a cow shelter and used a sharp stone to cut the umbilical chord.
Then, after a lengthy walk, she arrived at her mother’s house but was made to feel uncomfortable. Instead of committing suicide, this mother began begging on the streets of Maharashtra to provide for her and her infant kid.
Sapkal was distressed to observe the fate of destitute orphan children who lived their lives begging without receiving any care or warmth while battling to survive on the streets. This young mother decided to embrace these young kids and give them what little she could because she had lost her own childhood to patriarchy.
Then, Sapkal, who was resolved to make a difference in the lives of these children, began singing fervently aboard Mumbai’s local trains, pleading for these children. She gradually came to the realization that caring for them gave her a purpose and happiness in life, and she made the decision to become the “Mother of Orphans” by providing love and care to all children.
After years of labour and suffering, Sapkal’s work gradually came to the notice of the public, and people began to acknowledge her efforts. She received her doctorate in literature from the D.Y. Patil College of Technology and Research in Mumbai in 2016. She has received more than 750 honours to date in recognition of her tenacious and unselfish humanitarian efforts. On March 8, 2018, International Women’s Day, the President of India presented her with the Nari Shakti Award 2017.
All of the prize money is used by Sapkal to help those in need. She cares for abandoned women in addition to helping impoverished youngsters. With 36 daughter-in-laws, 207 son-in-laws, and more than 1000 grandchildren, she now has a sizable family. Many of her offspring went on to become physicians and attorneys, while others founded their own orphanages to aid the needy and support her in her admirable objectives.
Impact Through Film: Mee Sindhutai Sapkal
Sapkal’s life became an inspiration to many, and to celebrate this ‘Mother of Orphans,’ a Marathi filmmaker decided to make a film on her life. The film, Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, was released in the year 2010, won several national awards and was selected for world premiere at the 54th London Film Festival.
This warrior woman who started her life’s journey with nothing at all has proved that one does not have to be rich or in a higher political position to bring about a change in society. She has made possible the impossible, created history and won her personal battle against poverty. Sapkal’s actions made her a hero in regard to her own life, and also for the thousands of lives she changed with pure love and affection.