Today is the 100th International Women’s Day. While I was thinking about the day, I thought, why not write about women who have greatly contributed to my life and have helped me be what I am. There are many of them. My mom, grand mom, wife, sisters, aunts, mother-in-law, friends, colleagues even my daughter. So I started writing about my mom and realized that it’s impossible to do it in a short hour, one evening. It’s going to take a long time to actually put on paper how each of them have contributed to my life. Hats of to all you ladies. I am deeply indebted to all of you and I promise that someday, I would write about each one of you.
So instead, I decided to write about a woman to whom I was introduced this year. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet this great lady in person, but through a very well made bio-pic on her life. I am talking about Sindhutai Sapkal.
Sindhutai was born in a very poor household. She didn’t even have a proper name. She was named Chindhi, which literally means a rag. She had to tend to buffalos and hence could not attend regular school. She attended the school whenever possible, and learnt till fourth grade. Because she attended the school part-time, she calls herself part-time fourth grade educated. . She couldn’t complete school, but one of her adopted son is doing a doctoral thesis on her.
At the age of 9-10, she was married off to an illiterate man of 26 years her senior. she did the housework, collected cow dung, cooked on the hot chulha (earthen stove), and bore her husband three sons. She also worked along with other village women, gathering cow dung in the forest. However, the forest officers, and contractors would take the dung away from the village women without paying them. Chindhi fought for being compensated which was agreed by the district collector. This made the local contractor very angry and he told Chindhi’s husband that the child that chindhi was carrying was not her husband’s child, but the contractors. This made the husband very wild and he threw her out of the home with a new born daughter.
Her father had passed away and her mother wouldn’t give her shelter. She had a new-born daughter in her hand and nowhere to go. For some time, she even stayed in a crematorium. The burning pyres would keep her warm and the rice offered as part of the last rites would help her ward off the hunger. She used to be terrified and sometimes even shout due to fear. The people around the crematorium thought that it was haunted. She tried to kill herself under a moving train, but at the last moment, she decided that she wasn’t going to runaway. So she went to the railway station and in despair, started praying to God singing a song. The passengers on the railway platform started giving her alms and soon she had money to take care of her.
But she saw that there were other orphans on the railway platform who were also hungry. So she shared the food with them. She started collecting money by singing songs. Later she started telling stories. Initially she went uninvited to public functions and gave very touching lectures and collected money. Soon, her work expanded. Today she is mother of more than 1000 children. She proudly says that she has 207 sons in law and 36 daughters in law.
This small essay is not to tell you everything about her and her work. I urge all of you to actually see the movie and get inspired as I am. I loved the motto of Sindhutai’s institutions. It says,
देवा, आम्हाला हसायला शिकव… परंतु आम्ही कधी रडलो होतो…याचा विसर पडू देवू नकोस…
(God teach us to laugh, but never allow us to forget that we also had wept some day)