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Maharashtra’s ‘Mai’ Sindhutai Sapkal laid to rest with full state honours

January 6, 2022
-Dipta Joshi

Sindhutai Sapkal, the Padma Shri awardee (2021) known for her work with orphaned children who passed away Tuesday (January 4), was laid to rest with full state honours on Wednesday. Affectionately called ‘Mai’ (Mother), the 73-year-old social worker adopted and cared for 1400 orphaned and destitute children at her Sanmati Bal Niketan Sanstha (estb.1995) at Hadapsar, Pune during her lifetime. She also fought for the rights of tribals and the rehabilitation of women.    

Sindhutai suffered from various health issues since November last year and suffered a massive cardiac arrest on Tuesday night. She was already hospitalised for a lung infection at the time. State dignitaries, officials from Pune district administration and thousands of locals attended the burial at the Thosar Paga burial grounds. Sindhutai was a follower of the Mahanubhava Panth that prescribes burial instead of cremation by fire for a person’s last rites. Condolence messages by president Ram Nath Kovind, prime minister Narendra Modi, the state’s chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray and other national and state dignitaries poured in expressing shock and grief at her passing.

Sindhutai fought her harrowing life’s circumstances to script a story that has been an inspiration to others – in 2010, a National award-winning Marathi biopic titled, ‘Mi Sindhutai Sapkal Boltey’ was released. Born on November 14, 1948, Sindhutai hailed from a village in Maharashtra’s Wardha district and was married off at 10 years to a man 30 years older than her.

At 20 years, she was abandoned by her husband and the local community during her ninth month of pregnancy. Beaten and left to die in a cowshed, she gave birth to her daughter alone in a semi-conscious state. Forced to sing devotional songs and beg at railway stations to feed her child, she was distressed at the plight of children forced to survive on their own. Overcoming her own sufferings, she decided to devote her life to caring for the growing number of orphans she took under her wings even while she herself had no home.

A remarkable orator, she used the power of her speech to connect with people at public forums and ask for funding at the end of the speech. Sindhutai’s orphanage has been dependent on private funds and donations since its establishment. She has been awarded the Ahilyabai Holkar Award in 2010 by the Maharashtra government and has 750 awards for her social work. In 2016, she was conferred a Doctorate in Literature by the DY Patil Institute of Technology and Research, Pune.  Her biological daughter, Mamta too runs her own orphanage. 

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