Eminent social worker and Padma Shri awardee Sindhutai Sapkal, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 73, and who was renowned for her tireless work among orphaned children, was laid to rest with full state honours on Wednesday at Pune’s Thosar Paga crematorium.
She was buried in keeping with the custom of the Mahanubhava Panth sect in the presence of dignitaries, senior authorities of the Pune district administration, and thousands of citizens from all walks of life.
Heart-rending scenes were witnessed at the Sanmati Bal Niketan Sanstha in Manjari, the orphanage where Sapkal’s body was kept for people to have a last glimpse of their beloved Maai, as she was affectionately called. She adopted and cared for more than 1,000 orphaned children in this orphanage
Sapkal was feted with more than 700 awards for her work, including the Padma Shri in 2021.
Several mourners, and orphans who had been cared for by Sapkal and keenly felt her loss, said they had been orphaned a second time by her passing.
The doughty social worker’s harrowing but inspirational life — from being married off as a child, to being disowned by her family and husband and having to beg to survive in order to keep her child alive — was the subject of the National Award-winning biopic, Mee Sindhutai Sapkal (‘I am Sindhutai Sapkal’) directed by actor-filmmaker Ananth Mahadevan.
Sapkal, who hailed from a backwaters village in Wardha district, transcended the tribulations of her early life, which included making roti s near a crematorium to feed her baby, in a manner that few individuals do. She sublimated her pain and suffering into devoting the rest of her life to bestowing affection on orphaned children. She also fought for the rights of tribals.
Tributes flowed from across the political spectrum following Sapkal’s death, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray among those who expressed grief at her passing.
Mr. Modi said: “Dr. Sindhutai Sapkal will be remembered for her noble service to society. Due to her efforts, many children could lead a better quality of life. She also did a lot of work among marginalised communities. Pained by her demise. Condolences to her family and admirers.”
President Kovind said in a tweet: “The life of Dr. Sindhutai Sapkal was an inspiring saga of courage, dedication and service. She loved and served orphaned, tribals and marginalised people. Conferred with Padma Shri in 2021, she scripted her own story with incredible grit.”
Mr. Pawar said her work in taking on the role of the mother of orphaned children would serve as inspiration to generations.
Fondly recalling the conversation that he had with Sindhutai a year-and-a-half ago amid the pandemic, Mr. Thackeray said it was right to call her the ‘Mother Teresa of Maharashtra’.
“The news of Sindhutai’s demise is shocking… She was the mother goddess who took care of thousands of orphans and bestowed on them a mother’s love,” Mr. Thackeray said.
Paying tribute to her memory, the Chief Minister praised her contribution for the education of girls and in making them self-reliant.
“There can be no better example of simple living, high thinking than Sindhutai Sapkal… She was always thinking of the welfare of orphans and the destitute. Putting aside the grief of his own life, she lent succour to so many,” Mr. Thackeray said.