Born in abject poverty in Maharashtra in rural India, Sindhutai Sapkal’s family could not even afford the basic necessities. She was forced to drop out of school after fourth grade and at the age of 10, was married off to a man 20 years her senior.
If life was tough before, it became particularly painful after her marriage. Even at a young age she was always up in arms about various causes and that did not sit well with those around her including her husband. Influenced by local elders, he eventually abandoned her. Sapkal was nine months pregnant at the time and soon after was forced to give birth to her daughter in a cowshed.
“I cut the umbilical cord with a sharp-edged stone lying nearby,” she recalls.
Sindhutai Sapkal’s family wouldn’t take her back and she was reduced to begging for food at a local railway station. It was there that she saw orphaned, homeless children that stole her heart. Their misery seemed larger than hers and she began to take them under her wing.
While her circumstances didn’t change much, she soon had hundreds of children depending on her. She would beg for food and money and feed them the best she could. Over the years, people realized what she was doing and she started getting help.
With time, the children she took under her wing grew up, she got them married, and she now proudly boasts, 207 sons-in-law, 36 daughters-in-law and more than 1,000 grandchildren.
Many in her community have since recognized her work and she has received various national awards for it. But she accepts nothing for herself. She uses the money she gets from these awards for putting a roof over her orphans’ heads. She still lives in poverty and has a full time job earning for her children who have come to be around 1,400 strong.
Sapkal gives talks and speeches anywhere she sees hope of getting some food for her dependents. She has six organizations operating under her name that work for various needs of orphans.
“By God’s grace I had good communication skills. I could go and talk to people and influence them. Hunger made me speak and this became my source of income. I give many speeches at various places and this gets me some money which I use to take care of my children,” she says.