It is not righteousness that you turn your faces to the East or the West, but truly righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book and the Prophets, and spends his money for love of Him, on the kindred and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and those who ask for charity, and for ransoming the captives. (Al Quran 2:178)
March 14, 2015
The 2014 Ahmadiyya Muslim Prize for the Advancement of Peace goes to Sou. Sindhutai Sapkal. She is also known as Mother of Orphans and is an Indian social worker and social activist known particularly for her work for raising orphan children.
She received the Ahmadiyya Peace Prize today from His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who is the worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the National Peace Symposium held in London.
Early life and education
She was born on 14 November 1948 at Pimpri Meghe village in Wardha district Maharashtra to Abhimanji Sathe, a cowherd by profession. Being an unwanted child, she was nicknamed ‘Chindhi’ (torn piece of cloth). Her father was keen on educating Sindhutai, much against the wishes of her mother. Abhimanji used to send her to school under the pretext of cattle grazing, where she would use ‘leaf of Bharadi Tree’ as a slate as she could not afford a real slate because of financial reasons. Abject poverty, family responsibilities and an early marriage forced her to quit formal education after she passed 4th grade.
Marriage and early work of Sou. Sindhutai Sapkal
At the age of 10, she got married to Shrihari Sapkal alias Harbaji, a 30-year-old cowherd from Navargaon village in Wardha District. She bore 3 sons by the time she turned 20. She put up a successful agitation against a local strongman who was fleecing the villagers on collection of dried cow dung used as fuel in India and selling it in collusion with forest department, without paying anything to the villagers. Her agitation brought the district collector to her village and on realising she was right, he passed an order which the strongman did not like. Stung by the insult at the hands of a poor woman, he managed to convince her husband to abandon her when she was beyond 9 months of her pregnancy. She gave birth to a baby girl on 14 October 1973 in a cow shelter outside their house that night,all by herself and walked few kilometres away to her mother’s place, who refused to shelter her. She had to set aside the thought of suicide and started begging on railway platforms for food. In the process, she realised that there are so many children abandoned by their parents and she adopted them as her own and started begging even more vigorously to feed them. She decided to become a mother to anyone and everyone who came across to her as an orphan. She later donated her biological child to the trust Shrimant Dagdu Sheth Halwai, Pune, only to eliminate the feeling of partiality between her daughter and the adopted ones.
She has devoted her entire life for orphans. As a result she is fondly called ‘Mai'(mother). She has nurtured over 1050 orphaned children. As of today, she has a grand family of 207 son-in-laws, 36 daughter-in-laws and over 1000 grandchildren. She still continues to fight for the next meal. Many of the children whom she adopted are well-educated lawyers and doctors, and some, 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 her children. Construction has started and she is still looking for more help from the world. Sanmati Bal Niketan is being built in Manjari locality at Hadapsar, Pune where over 300 children will reside.
At the age of 80, her husband came back to her apologetically. She accepted him as her child stating she is only a mother now! If you visit her ashram, she proudly and very affectionately introduces him as her oldest child! In person, she comes across as an unlimited source of energy and very powerful inspiration, with absolutely no negative emotions or blaming anybody.
A marathi film ‘Mee Sindhutai Sapkal’ released in 2010, is a biopic inspired by the true story of Sindhutai Sapkal. The film was selected for world premiere at the 54th London Film Festival.