Sindhutai Sapkal

Sindhutai Sapkal, affectionately known as the "Mother of Orphans",[1] is an Indian social worker and social activist known particularly for her work in raising orphaned children in India. She was conferred the Padma Shri in 2021 in Social Work category, a Doctorate in Literature by the DY Patil Institute of Technology and Research in 2016 and the Nari Shakti Puraskar in 2017.

Sindhutai Sapkal
Sindhutai Sapkal.jpg
Born (1948-11-14) 14 November 1948 (age 72)
Other namesMother of Orphans, Mai (mother)
Known forRaising orphan children
Spouse(s)Shrihari Sapkal
ChildrenOne daughter and three sons
1400 Adopted
  • Abhimanji Sathe (father)

Early life and educationEdit

Sapkal was born on 14 November 1948 in a cattle grazing family in Maharashtra’s Wardha district. Being an unwanted child, she was referred to as Chindhi (Marathi for "torn piece of cloth"). However, her father was keen on educating Sindhutai, much against the wishes of her mother. Abhimanji (Sindhutai's father) used to send her to school under the pretext of cattle grazing, where she would use the 'leaf of Bharadi Tree' as a slate as she could not afford a real slate due to her family's limited financial resources. Abject poverty, family responsibilities and an early marriage forced her to quit formal education after she successffully passed the 4th standard.[2]

Marriage and early workEdit

At the age of twelve, Sapkal was married to a man twenty years her senior in Wardha District. In her new home, she fought against the exploitation of local women, who collected cow dung, by the forests department and landlords. She bore three sons by the time she turned twenty.

At the young age of twenty, when nine-months pregnant, Sapkal was beaten and left to die by her husband. She gave birth to a baby girl Mamta in a semi-conscious state in a cow shelter outside their house on the night of 14 October 1973. Sindhutai took to begging on the streets and railway platforms to survive. Because she feared being picked up by men at night, she often spent the night at cemeteries. Such was her condition that people called her a ghost since she was seen at night in the cemeteries.[3]

Details of Sapkal's struggle were provided in the weekly Optimist Citizen on May 18, 2016:

In this constant tussle to survive, she found herself in Chikaldara, situated in the Amravati district of Maharashtra. Here, due to a tiger preservation project, 84 tribal villages were evacuated. Amidst the confusion, a project officer impounded 132 cows of Adivasi villagers and one of the cows died. Sindhutai decided to fight for proper rehabilitation of the helpless tribal villagers. Her efforts were acknowledged by the Minister of Forests and he made appropriate arrangements for alternative relocation.[4]

Sapkal walked several kilometers away to her mother's home. Her mother refused to shelter her. Sapkal started begging on railway platforms for food. In the process, she realized that there were many children abandoned by their parents and she adopted them as her own. She then begged more vigorously to feed them. She decided to become a mother to everyone who came across to her as an orphan. She later donated her biological child to the trust Shrimant Dagdu Sheth Halwai, Pune, to eliminate the feeling of partiality between her biological child and the adopted children.[5]

Later workEdit

Sapkal has devoted herself to orphans. As a result, she is fondly called "Mai", which means "mother". She has nurtured over 1,050 orphaned children. She has a grand family of 207 sons-in-law, thirty-six daughters-in-law, and over a thousand grandchildren. Many of the children whom she adopted are well-educated lawyers and doctors. Some of her adopted children - including her biological daughter - are running their own independent orphanages. One of her children is doing a PhD on her life. She has been honoured with over 273 awards for her dedication and work. She used award money to buy land to make a home for orphaned children. In person, Sapkal recites motivational lines for society and youth.[6]

At the age of 70, Sapkal's husband came to her apologetically. She accepted him as her child.

A Marathi-language film Mee Sindhutai Sapkal released in 2010, is a biopic inspired by the true story of Sindhutai Sapkal. The film was selected for its world premiere at the 54th London Film Festival.

Sapkal fought for the rehabilitation of eighty-four villages. In the course of her agitation, she met Chhedilal Gupta, the then Minister of Forests. He agreed that the villagers should not be displaced before the government had made appropriate arrangements at alternative sites. When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi arrived to inaugurate the tiger project, Sindhutai showed her photographs of an Adivasi who had lost his eyes to a wild bear. He is quoted as saying, "I told her that the forest department paid compensation if a cow or a hen was killed by a wild animal, so why not a human being? She immediately ordered compensation."

After being informed of the plight of orphaned and abandoned Adivasi children, Sapkal took care of the children in return for meager amounts of food. Shortly thereafter, it become the mission of her life.

Operating organisationsEdit

  • Sanmati Bal Niketan, Bhelhekar Vasti, Hadapsar, Pune
  • Mamata Bal Sadan, Kumbharvalan, Saswad
  • Mai's Ashram Chikhaldara, Amravati -
  • Abhiman Bal Bhavan, Wardha
  • Gangadharbaba Chhatralaya, Guha shirdi
  • Saptsindhu' Mahila Adhar, Balsangopan Aani Shikshan Sanstha, Pune
  • Shree Manshanti Chatralaya, Shirur


President Ram Nath Kovind presenting the Nari Shakti Puraskar to her in 2017
  • 2021 - Padma Shri in Social work category
  • 2017 – On 8 March 2018 on Women's day Sindhutai Sapkal has been honoured with Nari Shakti award 2017 from President Of India.[7] This is the highest civilian award dedicated for Women.
  • 2016 – Social Worker of the Year award from Wockhardt Foundation 2016
  • 2015 – Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Prize for the year 2014[8]
  • 2014 – BASAVA BHUSANA PURASKAR-2014, awarded from Basava Seva Sangh Pune.
  • 2013 – Mother Teresa Awards for Social Justice.[9][10]
  • 2013 – The National Award for Iconic Mother ---- (first recipient)[11]
  • 2012 – Real Heroes Awards, given by CNN-IBN and Reliance Foundation.[12]
  • 2012 – COEP Gaurav Puraskar, given by College of Engineering, Pune.
  • 2010 – Ahilyabai Holkar Award, given by the Government of Maharashtra to social workers in the field of women and child welfare[13]
  • 2008 – Women of the Year Award, given by daily Marathi newspaper Loksatta
  • 1996 – Dattak Mata Purskar, given by Non Profit Organization – By Sunita Kalaniketan Trust (In the memories of – Late Sunita Trimbak Kulkarni ), Tal – Shrirampur Dist Ahmednagar. Maharashtra Pune.[14]
  • 1992 – Leading Social Contributor Award.
  • Sahyadri Hirkani Award (Marathi: सह्याद्रीची हिरकणी पुरस्कार)
  • Rajai Award (Marathi: राजाई पुरस्कार)
  • Shivlila Mahila Gaurav Award (Marathi: शिवलीला महिला गौरव पुरस्कार)


The 2010 Marathi film Mee Sindhutai Sapkal by Anant Mahadevan is a biopic inspired by the true story of Sindhutai Sapkal. The film was selected for world premiere at the 54th London Film Festival.[15]


  1. ^ Mother of Orphans
  2. ^ "Sindhutai Sapkal". Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education,TIFR.
  3. ^ "The story of Sindhutai Sapkal - A mother to orphaned children". Raksha Paharia.
  4. ^ Sen, Tuhin (8 May 2016). "Story of Sindhutai Sapkal – The Mother of thousands of Orphans". The Optoimist Citizen. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  5. ^ "Mother of orphans – Sindhu Tai Sapkal – Part 1". Indya Unlimited. 9 March 2011.
  6. ^ "Sindhutai Sapkal Birthday: From begging to becoming the mother of thousands of orphans". Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  7. ^ "Nari Shakti Puraskar". The Times of India. 7 March 2018.
  8. ^ Zia H Shah (14 March 2015). "This year Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Prize went to a Hindu Humanitarian Sou. Sindhutai Sapkal". The Muslim Times.
  9. ^ "Harmony Foundation to host Mother Teresa awards on Nov 9". dna. Diligent Media Corporation Ltd. 8 November 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  10. ^ "Mother Teresa Awards given to promoters of social justice". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  11. ^ "Mukherjee confers first National Award for Senior Citizens". NetIndian. 1 October 2013.
  12. ^ "Real Heroes". Reliance Foundation. Archived from the original on 31 March 2016.
  13. ^ Sindhutai Sapkal to receive state award child welfare
  14. ^ "Sindhutai Sapkal".
  15. ^ Mee Sindhutai will have its world premiere at the 54th London Film Festival

External linksEdit