On international women's day Sindhutai Sapkal inspired a packed hall with poignant episodes narrated with great wit and energy
"A mother can never be defeated. A woman can never be defeated. But she needs to keep her heart strong and learn to forgive," says Sindhutai Sapkal, the social reformer and Mai (mother) to over 1,050 orphans. She was speaking at the International Women's Day celebrations organised by Moneylife Foundation with support from Magarpatta City and Symbiosis International University in Pune.
Sindhutai's story is one of incredible grit and determination to fight adversity. At the age of 20, when she was nine months pregnant, she was kicked, beaten and left to die in a cowshed. Her daughter was born in that semi-conscious stage and she cut the umbilical cord herself and went away with her daughter to try and stay alive. The beauty of Sindutai Sapkal's life story is that she went on to build multiple orphanages and nurture over 1,000 children and give shelter to innumerable women, who are destitute and abandoned.
She shared her experiences about her struggle in a unique style with song and laughter and lessons of life, without trivialising the tragic and humiliating experiences she faced. She said, "Several times I tried to commit suicide. But everytime something, maybe the unknown power, saved me. And everytime I decided to live for others who are dying". She said...
कफ़न को जेब नहीं होती
और मौत कभी रिश्वत नहीं लेती
Sindhutai also shared her experience of giving up her own daughter to an orphanage so that she could remain fair to all the other orphans she adopted over the years. What shines through in her talk is her indomitable spirit, extraordinary courage and high intelligence, combined with street smarts.
“I have experienced what it feels like to have no one with you, no place to go, no shelter and no food to eat for days. My small work makes me feel like someone is helping me heal my own wounds. So all wonds heal with time, but you must live, stay alive for others” she says...
"जीवनाची प्रेतयात्रा थांबली जेंव्हा स्मशानी,
घेतला काढून खांदा ओळखीच्या माणसानी"
Talking about healed wounds, Sindhutai said, "Few years back, at the age of around 80, my husband came back to me apologetically. I told him I could accept him only as my child and not as a wife. Because, a woman is wife for some time, but is mother at all the time. Now, I tell my other children that they should thank this oldest child for having me as their Mai."
The children who Mai or Sindhutai has nurtured are proud to carry her name as their middle and last name. So, all boys use Sapkal while girls use Sathe (Sindhutai's maiden surname) as their surnames. She told the story of Vinay Sindhutai Sapkal, who she rescued from the arms of a dead mother, when he was a few days old. He is now a qualified advocate, but prefers to assist her and help run the orphanages and accompany her on her talks.
When asked about how she gets orphans admitted into her orphanages, Sindhutai said, "After my speeches at various places, local people bring to me children without parents or an immediate family. After taking a signed letter from the local district administration, we usually admit such child into our orphanage."
A gifted orator, Sindhutai, with her singing, using quotes from poet-saints Tukaram, Namdeo, Bahinabai, Gadgebaba and Tukdoji Maharaj as well as poet Suresh Bhat and switching easily between Hindi and Marathi with ease hold the audience to rapt attention, laughing and clapping one moment and wiping tears of anguish at another.
"However," she said, "despite all the awards (750 and more) and travelling across regions and even to the US, I am still a begger (none of her orphanages receive any grant from the government). Earlier my singing used to provide me with food. Today it is my speeches that gives us food. पहले गाना था तो खाना मिलता था, अब भाषण है तो राशन है."
Earlier, Sindhutai felicitated two winners of Majhi Maitrin Charitable Trust's awards for 2016. Majhi Maitrin's Savitribai Phule Award 2016 was be given to Tejaswi Sevekari, Director of Saheli Sangh, a community organisation working for the welfare of sex workers and Pandita Ramabai Award to Sangli-based Women's Education Society.
Every year, Moneylife Foundation felicitate two women activists for their extra ordinary work for woman empowerment. However, this year, we decided to collaborate with Majhi Maitrin, for felicitating two awardees, says Sucheta Dalal, Founder-Trustee of Moneylife Foundation.
She also pointed out that International Women's Day is increasingly becoming a "Fair and Lovely" event, which is all about glamour and far removed from the original idea of recognising women's struggles for equality. Very few organisations are willing to support serious events to mark this day and we were fortunate that Magarpatty City, Bank of Maharashtra and Symbiosis International University shared these ideals and supported the idea.
Sindhutai's life is truly inspirational. She fought abject childhood poverty and ill-treatment to set up several orphanages. She has nurtured over 1,050 orphans and fought for the rights of the poor and disadvantaged. Her life story has been captured in a biopic - 'Mee Sindhutai Sapkal' and her extraordinary work has been recognised with hundreds of awards.
Sindhutai runs four homes for orphans and others in need across Maharashtra.
Today, her grand family comprises 207 son-in-laws, 36 daughter-in-laws and over 1,000 grandchildren. Many of them are well-educated lawyers and doctors, and some, including her biological daughter, are running their own independent orphanages.
Well-known anchor and presenter Sudhir Gadgil did compering of the program.
This program was organised with support from Bank of Maharashtra (as Silver Sponsor), Softcell Technologies (Technology Partner), Symbiosis International University, Majhi Maitrin Charitable Trust, Corporate Citizen (Media Partner) and Sadhu Vaswani Institute of Management Studies for Girls.
Here are contact details for Sindhutai Sapkal...
Sanmati Bal Niketan Sanstha
Near Vasantadada Sugar Institute,
Manjari (Budruk) Taluka- Haveli,
Dist.- Pune, PIN - 412307
Here are bank details, if you want to donate...
A/c Name: Sanmati Bal Niketan
A/c Type: Savings
A/c No: 102104000077288
Bank Name: IDBI Bank, Hadapsar Branch, Pune
Email: [email protected] (You can send an email giving details of your donation to Sanmati Bal Niketan)