Sindhutai Sapkal: Maharashtra has no funds for orphanages, but attempts to orphan the ‘Mother of Orphans’
Consider the rude joke played on renowned social reformer Sindhutai Sapkal, whose grand family comprises 207 sons-in-law, 36 daughters-in-law and over 1,000 grandchildren – all nurtured by her in her orphanages. Many of them are well-educated lawyers and doctors and some, including her biological daughter, are running their own independent orphanage.
2010: The Government of Maharashtra honours Sindhutai Sapkal with the prestigious Ahilyabai Holkar Award, which is given for outstanding work in the field of woman and child welfare. Obviously, the government could not have given it to someone who runs an illegal entity.
2016: The Maharashtra Department of Women and Child Development (WCD), pressures Sapkal to oust orphans residing in her Sanmati Bal Niketan and hand them over to the department to rehabilitate them to government orphanages. Reason? Because Sanmati Bal Niketan is not registered with WCD and hence, is being considered as an illegal entity. This, despite Sapkal running from pillar to post, since 2011, in order to have the institution registered.
Firstly, if it is illegal, why did the state government give such a prestigious award to Sapkal? Also, to be noted is the fact that, Sapkal has been felicitated by three Presidents of India. So, aptly did she say at a function held by Moneylife Foundation this year on Women’s International Day that, “Despite all the awards (750 and more) and travelling across regions and even to the US, I am still a beggar (none of her orphanages receive any grant from the government). Earlier, my singing used to provide me with food. Today, my speeches give us our food. पहले गाना था तो खाना मिलता था, अब भाषण है तो राशन है.’’
Secondly, recently in the WCD committee meeting in Aurangabad, its minister, Pankaja Munde did not take any decision on the financial grant of Rs200 crore, for meals for the 150-odd government orphanages in Maharashtra, due to alleged lack of funds. This has sent nervous signals across orphanages in the state. So, does it have the right to destroy someone’s efforts in nurturing orphans by being self-sufficient?
Thirdly, the State Government has stringent norms regarding the capacity of orphanages. This means that there are thousands of orphans who cannot get admission into them. So, when `Mai’ Sapkal has taken up this responsibility with credibility, why has the government woken up now suddenly to destroy her work?
Fourthly, the WCD officials have sent her a notice, because she has not registered with it. Did WCD officials suddenly realise that an individual cannot run an orphanage as that would lead to other individuals asking for the same? Well, the government keeps making ‘exceptions’ so isn’t there a difference between Sapkal knocking at the state government’s door since 2011, seeking registration for her orphanage and some other Tom, Dick or Harry asking for the same?
Fifthly, is the Women’s and Child Department of Maharashtra Government, under its minister, Pankaja Munde, so insensitive and callous that it is so disrespectful to one of the stalwart social reformers of our times, so as to treat her as a criminal, for no fault of hers but for its own criminal negligence in not attending to her plea for registration of her orphanage?
Vijay Kumbhar, noted Right to Information (RTI) activist and one who has closely studied the issue of orphanages in Maharashtra, says, “What right does the state government have to treat a respectful social reformer like Sindhutai in such a humiliating manner, when it cannot grant even Rs200 crore to serve food to orphans in its own 150 orphanages? There have been various instances when ‘special’ status has been granted. Isn’t Sindhutai’s work revolutionary enough to grant her not only recognition but financial aid as well? It is unfortunate that the Department for Women and Child has always had insensitive ministers and officials. It is a real tragedy and a shame on the present government.”
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 Sindhutai 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.
At the Moneylife Foundation function in Pune, 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 is clear in her talk is her indomitable spirit, extraordinary courage and high intelligence, combined with street-smartness.
“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 wounds heal with time, but you must live, stay alive for others” she had said.
Stung by this move by the WCD, Vinay Sapkal, who has been with Mai since he was two months old and now manages all her work, pens down the pain caused to them, due to the insensitivity of the state government. He writes:
“The real tragedy is that when a person, following a certain principle, powered by immense confidence and grit, creates a world for orphans; takes utmost care of them, nourishing them by continuously asking for alms; that motherly figure is (leave alone being given a government grant) being denied recognition, by the government.
Mrs Sindhutai Sapkal (Mai), who, today, is known as mother to thousands of children, is being pressurised to admit the children in her institution into the government orphanages. This action is being taken by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, which is supposed to ensure care and protection of children. The sole reason being, the institution doesn’t have the official recognition.
Our Mai is tired of sending proposals to this department to get recognition since last five years, i.e., year 2011. The government, that is, the officers and members of the department of women and child development, have constantly denied us recognition, under one pretext or the other, referring to irrelevant points as mistakes in an unreasonable manner.
It means the government, in the first place, is making all excuses to issue recognition to the institution, and to top it, gravely humiliating Mai by behaving in such a manner. It is really unfortunate that Mai, who was honoured, felicitated and awarded by three Presidents of India, should be treated thus.
It is an unpalatable fact that the lady who in the last 40 years wandered from village to village, appealed for donations through speeches till her throat was parched, asked for alms to let live, raise and help thousands of orphans stand on their own feet, is being reprimanded severely by the government.
Today, there are thousands of ashrams in Maharashtra, some are recognised, and some are not. If any institution does not fit into the rules and regulations pertaining to the running of institutions, then it may be denied recognition. But, why harass those institutions which provide all the facilities and education to the children, and work in a selfless manner? Looking at all the facilities, food provided to the children, at Mai’s four-storey building at Manjari, it should have got the grant without any hitch.
Considering the future of the children, Mai has built such a grand building, raising money through asking for alms. Still, since 2011, it hasn’t received the grant despite it being close to essentials such as school and college and so on. Just the other day, there was a news story in a daily about two officers of the women and child development department getting arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau. What does it mean for the ordinary citizens and those who are doing good work? And to top it, there are threats by them that they will take away the children. Therefore, if the top officials in the government look into this matter and treat those who are doing good work for the community with due respect, the respect for the government amongst the people will definitely increase.
— Vinay Sindhutai Sapkal”
Some of the many awards received by Mai Sindhutai Sapkal
• 2015 - Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Prize for the year 2014
• 2014 - BASAVA BHUSANA PURASKAR-2014,Awarded from Basava Seva Sangh Pune.
• 2013 - Mother Teresa Awards for Social Justice.
• 2013 - The National Award for Iconic Mother ---- (first recipient)
• 2012 - Real Heroes Awards, given by CNN-IBN and Reliance Foundation.
• 2012 - COEP Gaurav Purskar, given by College of Engineering, Pune.
• 2010 - Ahilyabai Holkar Award, given by the Government of Maharashtra to social workers in the field of woman and child welfare
• 2008 - Woman 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.
• 1992 - Leading Social Contributor Award.
• Sahyadri Hirkani Award (Marathi: सह्याद्रीची हिरकणी पुरस्कार)
• Rajai Award (Marathi: राजाई पुरस्कार)
• Shivlila Mahila Gourav Award (Marathi: शिवलीला महिला गौरव पुरस्कार)
• The 2010 Marathi film Mee Sindhutai Sapkal by Anant Mahadevan is a bio-pic inspired by the true story of Sindhutai Sapkal. The film was selected for world premiere at the 54th London Film Festival.
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