Sindhutai Sapkal was an Indian social worker who worked for the welfare of thousands of orphan children. She is bestowed with over 270 national and international awards which include the Nari Shakti Award presented to her by the President of India Ram Nath Kovind. On 4 January 2022, she died of cardiac arrest in Pune, Maharashtra.
Sindhutai Sapkal was born on Sunday, 14 November 1948 (age 73 years; at the time of death) in Pimpri Meghe village, Wardha, Central Provinces and Berar, Dominion of India (present-day Maharashtra, India). Her zodiac sign was Scorpio. She was raised in a poor family and was forced to live in poverty and have family responsibilities. She got married at the minor age of ten to a person who was 20 years older than her. At that time, she was in the fourth standard. During her studies, she used Bharadi leaves to write as her family could not afford a slate. There were conflicts between her father and mother about her studies. Her mother doesn’t want her to study but her father was keen to educate her. So, her father sent her to school unknowing to her mother who thought that she has gone for cattle grazing. After her marriage, she moved to Nawargaon village, Seloo in Wardha where her husband always used to molest her. At the age of 20, she was abandoned by her husband. At that time, she was pregnant. She then gave birth to a baby girl. In an interview, she recalled,
“I cut the umbilical cord with a sharp-edged stone lying nearby.”
She once thought of committing suicide when her mother didn’t allow her to enter her house. She then started begging on the streets and railway platforms in Chikhaldara in Amravati district in Maharashtra. She also took shelter in cemeteries and cowsheds with concern for her daughter’s safety. At that time, she saw many orphaned children lying on the streets and railway platforms begging. She then adopted them and begged more rigorously to feed them. This became the mission of her life. In order to eliminate the feeling of partiality between her biological daughter and adopted children, she donated her child to Shrimant Dagdu Sheth Halwai’s trust in Pune (Maharashtra). Her daughter itself runs an orphanage in Maharashtra. In an interview, she told,
“I had no one with me, everyone abandoned me. I knew the pain of being alone and unwanted. I didn`t want anyone to go through the same. And I feel immense pride and pleasure to see some of my children doing so well in their lives. One of my children made a documentary on my life.”
Height (approx.): 5′ 3″
Hair Colour: Salt and Pepper
Eye Colour: Dark Brown
Parents & Siblings
Her father’s name is Abhimanyu Sathe and he was a cow herder. There is not much information available about her mother and siblings.
Husband & Children
Sindhutai Sapkal is married to Shrihari Sapkal when she was ten years old. The couple is blessed with a daughter whose name is Mamta Sapkal.
She has also adopted a son whose name is Deepak Gaekwad.
Sindhutai Sapkal follows the Hindu religion.
Work for Adivasi
When she was in Chikhaldara, a tiger conservation project was going on in that town which resulted in the evacuation of 84 tribal villages. Sindhutai decided to fight against the evacuation and bring back the villagers to their native lands. During that course, she met the then Minister of Forest, Chhedilal Gupta. Chhedilal agreed that he won’t displace the villagers until an alternative land will be provided to them.
Work for Orphans
She established her first Ashram in Chikaldara, Amravati in 1970. She also opened her first NGO named Savitribai Phule Girls Hostel which was registered in Chikaldara. She then ran an orphanage named Sanmati Bal Niketan Sanstha – in the Hadapsar area of Pune. She also has many other social organizations in Maharashtra.
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- Shivlila Mahila Gaurav Award
- Rajai Award
- Sahyadri Hirkani Award
- 1996 – Dattak Mata Purskar, given by Non-Profit Organization Sunita Kalaniketan Trust
- 2008 – Women of the Year Award, given by daily Marathi newspaper Loksatta
- 2010 – Ahilyabai Holkar Award, given by the Government of Maharashtra to social workers in the field of women and child welfare
- 2012 – COEP Gaurav Puraskar, given by College of Engineering, Pune
- 2012 – Real Heroes Awards, given by CNN-IBN and Reliance Foundation
- 2013 – The National Award for Iconic Mother
- 2013 – Mother Teresa Awards for Social Justice
- 2014 – Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Prize
- 2016 – Social Worker of the Year award from Wockhardt Foundation
- 2016 – Honorary doctorate by the Dr D.Y. Patil College of Engineering, Pune
- 2017 – Nari Shakti Puraskar from the President Of India
- 2021 – Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2021 in the Social Work category
Sindhutai Sapkal died due to cardiac arrest on 4 January 2022 at 8:10 PM at Galaxy Care Hospital in Pune, Maharashtra.
- When she was abandoned by her husband, still she fought against the exploitation of rural women who collected cow dung by the forest department.
- While she was in the cemetery, she saw a dead body burning. After the last rites of the dead body, some wheat flour was left. She collected that flour and kneaded it. Then she baked the roti on the fire that was consuming the dead body.
- When she was 70, her husband approach her and said that he is ready to accept her. But at that time, Sindhutai told that she is also ready to accept him but as a son as she is only a mother now. She would only accept him as her eldest son!
- On 24 November 2021, she went through surgery for a large diaphragmatic hernia. After a few days of her surgery, she developed a lung infection and breath her last on 4 January 2021. On her death, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi tweeted,
“Sindhutai Sapkal will be remembered for her noble service to society. Due to her efforts, many children could lead a better quality of life. She also did a lot of work among marginalized communities. Pained by her demise. Condolences to her family and admirers. Om Shanti.”
The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray said,
“The news of Sindhutai’s death is shocking. She gave motherly care to thousands of orphan children. In her sudden death, an inspirational personality has been taken away from the field of social work.” NCP chief Sharad Pawar said, “The kind of social work that Sindhutai has done will inspire generations to come.” Former CM Ashok Chavan said, “Sindhutai herself faced a difficult life but she worked relentlessly to uplift the lives of orphan and abandoned children. Her life is a source of inspiration for millions.”
- On 30 October 2010, a Marathi film inspired by the life of Sindhutai Sapkal was released which was named ‘Mee Sindhutai Sapkal’. In the movie, Tejaswini Pandit has played the role of Sindhutai Sapkal. After Sindhutai’s demise, the actress said
“I am trying to come to terms with her death… She was sabki maye… a farishta (angel)…”
- Based on her life, an autobiography titled ‘Aamchi Mai’ was published on 1 January 2015 by an author named D.B. Mahajan.