Sindhutai, also known as ‘Mother of Orphans,’ died at a private hospital in Pune after suffering a heart attack on January 4. Sapkal, who was awarded the Padma Shri last year, celebrated her 74th birthday in November.
Sindhutai was born on November 14, 1948, in the Wardha region of Maharashtra, and was dubbed ‘chindi’ — which means shredded fabric — by society since she was deemed useless.
Her father wanted to educate her, but her mother was against it, according to her biography. As a result, she only completed Class 4 and was married off at the age of 10 to a man 20 years her senior.
After marrying and settling in the Navargaon forest in Wardha, she was a vocal opponent of the Forest Department’s and landowners’ abuse of local women who collected cow dung in 1972.
Her spouse abandoned her while she was pregnant due to a rumour of infidelity. Her mother shunned her when she came home, forcing her to sing and beg in trains and on the streets just to get by.
She realised there were hundreds of children who needed a mother while living on the streets and begging. After that, she began adopting orphaned and abandoned children, which changed the trajectory of her life.
She dedicated herself entirely to the cause, gaining the moniker ‘Mai,’ which translates to “mother.” She founded the Sanmati Bal Niketan Sanstha orphanage in the Hadapsar neighbourhood of Pune. She has raised almost 1,500 orphaned children throughout her lifetime. She has 382 sons-in-law and 49 daughters-in-law in her extended family.
Her accomplishments were recognised by all, and she was awarded the Padma Shri honour in 2021. She was also the recipient of over 750 awards and honours. She, on the other hand, always used the money she got to construct orphan homes.
“Mee Sindhutai Sapkal,” a Marathi biopic on her, was released in 2010. The 54th London Film Festival picked it for a world premiere.