Mother of 1000 orphaned children
From begging at railway stations to becoming one of the most acclaimed social workers, it has been one long arduous journey for Sindhutai Sapkal.
The social worker runs a number of orphanages and has been mother to over 1,000 orphans. Many of them, because of the care provided by Sindhutai, are today highly educated and have become successful in life.
Sindhutai, now over 60 years of age, was born in abject poverty and was married off at the age of ten because of which she did not receive proper education even. She has studied only up to the fourth grade.
Following some misunderstanding, Sindhutai was abandoned by her husband when she was 20. Even her mother refused to take her back and Sindhutai had to take to a life of wandering.
"I had attempted to commit suicide thrice but had failed each time. I am glad I did not die; otherwise it would have been a full stop. There would not have been a Sindhutai to take care of orphaned children," the social worker recalls at most functions where she is invited or in her interviews to reporters.
Why did she want to die? "There was nothing worth living," she says simply. Abandoned by her husband, and her mother refusing to give her refuge, Sindhutai had to take to begging at railway stations to survive. "I had no one to turn to for help," recalls Sindhutai.
But, then, the social worker has no grudge against her mother. "Had my mother given me refuge and fed me, I would have lived in her hut and would not have been able to experience life," she says.
Although she has studied only up to the fourth grade, Sindhutai recites poems of G D Madgulkar and Suresh Bhatt at the drop of the hat. "I always had a yearning to learn," says Sindhutai. But her illiterate husband would not allow her to read because he found it humiliating to have a literate wife. "I would read the poems from newspapers and swallow the pages so that I was not discovered," she says. Those poems are all coming out now, she says in a lighter vein.
The birth of her daughter too was a traumatic experience. The child was born in a cow-shed and Sindhutai had to sever the umbilical cord by chopping with a sharp-edged stone. Sindhutai had later handed over the care of her daughter to a charitable trust. Mamta, the daughter, has completed her Masters in Social Work (MSW) and today helps her mother in running the orphanages.
"I had never intended to become a social worker. It all happened accidentally," Sindhutai says. Whatever alms she used to receive through begging, she would share them with other beggars. "That is how the habit of sharing developed," she says. And that is how she began to take care of orphaned children which ultimately became her mission.