She started with nothing but runs
three orphanages in Maharashtra,
where she has been mother to hundreds
REPORT ON PAGES 6 & 7
(Left) actor Amitabh
Bachchan poses with
Sindhutai Sapkal, who
is known as ‘Mai’, at
a 2013 award
ceremony in Mumbai.
(Far left) Ms Sindhutai
with some of the
children she cares for.
T H E H E A R T B E A T O F T H E I N D I A N C O M M U N I T Y
GOLD RUSH IN
PAGES 8 & 9
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Govt forms committee for
regulation of online media
IN AN effort to establish a regulatory
framework for online media and news
portals, India’s Information and
Broadcasting Ministry has set up a
committee that will recommend the
formation of a suitable policy.
It will recommend a policy for
online media, news portals and
content platforms, including digital
broadcasting, that encompasses
entertainment, infotainment and news
and media aggregators.
It will also analyse other countries’
regulatory mechanism with a view to
incorporate the best practices.
The committee was set up a day
after the ministry withdrew its
guidelines on fake news following
directions from Prime Minister
Jharkhand to release 221
prisoners serving life term
THE Jharkhand government has
decided to release 221 prisoners who
have been serving life term and have
spent more than 20 years in jail.
Chief Minister Raghubar Das said
the prisoners should get a chance to
start a new life.
Out of the 221prisoners, 104 were
Dalits and three were women. One
hundred prisoners will be released
from the Birsa Munda Central Jail in
Ranchi, 54 from the Hazaribagh
Central Jail and the rest from other
The prisoners have completed an
average sentence of 23 years.
Colour controversy surrounding
THE Bharatiya Janata Party-led
government in Uttar Pradesh had
installed a statue of the architect of the
Indian constitution, Dr B.R.
Ambedkar, in a Budaun village.
But the statue was painted saffron,
unlike the usual blue.
The old statue, which was
vandalised some time back, was
replaced with this new one.
However, the colour of the statue
caused a controversy three days after
it was up. Saffron is the colour
representing the Bharatiya Janata
According to news reports, a
Bahujan Samaj Party leader repainted
it blue (above).
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi
Adityanath, who himself wears saffron
robes, defends the colour, saying it
Madhubani railway station gets
facelift with Mithila paintings
THE Madhubani railway station in
Bihar has received a makeover. Once
looked upon as one of the dirtiest
railway stations in India, it now sports
a completely different look with
Mithila paintings adorning its walls.
More than 225 artists volunteered
to paint the station free of charge over
Mithila paintings are done with
fingers, twigs, brushes, nib-pens and
matchsticks. Artists use natural dyes
and pigments to make geometrical
Brand ambassador for Swachh Rail
Mission, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak,
tagged Madhubani as “the cleanest
station of the country”.
New buses for Agartala to
help reduce jam, pollution
THE Tripura government is
introducing 38 new buses in Agartala.
The city currently has 135 city buses.
An official said the new buses will
run on six heavy-traffic routes.
Transport Minister Pranajit Singha
Roy said the introduction of these
buses will increase mobility and
reduce traffic jam and pollution.
Single women above 40 may
get higher priority in adoption
SINGLE women above the age of 40
may get more priority when adopting
“Adoption is a long process because
it requires a lot of legal procedures to
be followed. So, with a view to ensure
that women do not have to wait longer
after 40, we are planning to introduce
more benefits for single mothers,” an
official told IANS.
The Ministry of Women and Child
Development is also considering
quickening the process by shifting the
legal procedures from the family court
to the district administration.
opens for traffic
AFTER remaining closed for four
months, the Srinagar-Leh highway
connecting the Ladakh region with the
rest of the country was reopened for
traffic on April 6.
The highway goes through the
Zojila Pass, which is situated at an
altitude of 3,528m above sea level.
The highway, which is over 422km,
was formally opened by Lieutenant-
General A.K. Bhatt.
Modi launches India’s most
powerful electric locomotive
PRIME Minister Narendra Modi
flagged off Indian Railways’ first
high-speed electric locomotive on
April 10 in Madhepura, Bihar.
It was developed at the Electric
Locomotive Factory, a collaboration
between India and France.
The new locomotive will reduce the
operating costs for the Railways as well
as cut down greenhouse gas emissions.
According to a report by Business
Today, India joins countries such as
Russia, China, Germany and Sweden,
which have electric locomotives with
12,000 horsepower and above.
The most powerful electric engine
in the Indian Railways was of 6,000
NDIAN Police Service (IPS)
officer Roopa D. Moudgil,
who, as Deputy Inspector-
General of Prisons in Karnataka,
exposed the special favours ex-
tended to ousted Tamil Nadu po-
litical leader V.K. Sasikala in a
Bengaluru jail, has opened up
about how sexual discrimination
exists in different forms in the In-
dian bureaucracy, though it is of-
ten kept carefully under wraps.
Ms Roopa, now Inspector-
General of Police (Home Guards
and Civil Defence), Bengaluru,
also dwelt on the importance of
prison reforms and the need to
sensitise officials to the nuances
of the law.
“Yes, sexual discrimination is
present in the Indian bureau-
cracy, though it is subtle. You can
get a feel of it by looking at how
many prestigious posts the men
are occupying compared with
their female counterparts. The
gap is stark, though there is not a
lot of difference in terms of poten-
tial,” Ms Roopa said in Kolkata,
where she was attending a liter-
“When I joined service in
2000, the number of female IPS
officers was much lower. Now
more women are coming into the
police service. I often felt there is
a sense of discrimination, espe-
cially when it comes to where a fe-
male officer is posted. People
seem to doubt whether lady offi-
cers would be good enough to
handle a sensitive or important
“Also the women in police ser-
vice are hardly given prestigious
posts. Maybe because the most
sought-after posts, which involve
a lot of power, also have a lot of
vested interests involved and
those in power think twice before
posting a lady officer as they
doubt if they would be able to get
their work done through her.”
Ms Roopa, who recently de-
clined to accept an award recog-
nising her work from a Kar-
nataka-based private foundation
for the “heavy” cash reward it
came with, said women officers
in high ranks often have to deal
with insubordination by male offi-
cers and blamed this on the com-
mon perception of women in In-
“The immediate line of male
subordinates often oppose or-
ders given by a lady officer. There
is a general feeling in our society
that ladies, no matter how liter-
ate or experienced they are, have
a lesser idea about the outside
world. So there is a tendency to
neglect orders. They disobey
you, argue with you and even lie
to you,” she said.
Ms Roopa, who stirred a hor-
net’s nest last year by going pub-
lic about the VIP treatment re-
ceived by Sasikala in Bengaluru’s
Parappana Agrahara Central
Prison, said the cases of discrimi-
nation inside the jails are a reflec-
tion of the discrimination that ex-
ists in society.
“The people who are consid-
ered VIPs outside are often given
VIP treatment inside the prison as
well. They get special facilities.
For the poor, the jail is like hell. So
the discrimination that exists in so-
ciety, the same is reflected in the
microcosm of prisons.
“Corruption has to be tackled,
the prison officials involved in
such practices have to be dealt
with using a carrot-and-stick pol-
icy. They should be heavily pun-
ished if such behaviour is found
and also the officials need to be
sensitised about the law because it
does not permit any such discrimi-
nation,” she pointed out.
Asked about being transferred
26 times in her 17 years of service,
the officer said that though she
finds it affecting her motivation at
times, it does not stop her from do-
ing good work.
Following the Sashikala ex-
pose, Ms Roopa’s senior officer,
the then Karnataka Director-Gen-
eral of Police (Prisons) H.N.
Sathyanarayana Rao, filed a Rs 50
crore defamation lawsuit against
her for accusing him and other
prison officials of taking bribes
from the jailed All India Anna
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam
But Ms Roopa said she is confi-
dent that the charges of defama-
tion won’t stand against her as she
had just been doing her duty like a
loyal public servant.
“I have never criticised the en-
tire state government or defamed
anyone. So I am confident that this
defamation would not stand
against me. I will come out of it
clean. I have done my duty in an
accountable and transparent man-
ner, in a way every government
servant is expected to,” she said.
“I was not nervous because I
did not think about the conse-
quences during the expose. I knew
that I have acted as per law. I have
nothing to hide. I have no vested
interest in this. My courage comes
from my righteousness.”
Indo-Asian News Service
Police officer Roopa
Moudgil says women
rarely get prestigious posts
“There is a
no matter how
they are, have
a lesser idea
So there is a
you, argue with
you and even
lie to you.”
— Police officer Roopa
T WAS 10pm when
through to Ms Sindhutai Sapkal on
She was at Mumbai airport, waiting
to board a flight to Kuwait. She had been
invited to visit by the Maharashtra Man-
The busy 69-year-old, winner of nu-
merous accolades, is known for the
three orphanages she runs, where, over
the years, she has been a mother to more
than 1,700 individuals ranging from
abandoned newborns to troubled
That would be impressive for anyone.
But it is a staggering achievement for
someone who started from extreme de-
Ms Sindhutai was for a time home-
less, with no one to turn to even in times
of desperate need.
Yet, she could not turn away from the
orphans she found around her.
There is something very maternal
about this woman, who is usually
dressed in a cotton sari, tied Maharash-
trian style, with a large bindi on her fore-
head, her silver-grey hair covered with
And it was natural for her to look out
for the homeless children she came
across, to make sure they were not ex-
ploited on the streets.
“Knowing the pain of being alone
and unwanted, I didn’t want anyone else
to go through the same loneliness and
sadness,” she said, through an inter-
Many of these children have gone on
to do well in life. And they know what
she has endured.
Indeed, one of them, Mr Sham Ran-
dive, has completed his PhD on her life
Some of those Ms Sindhutai looked
after stayed on to work with her, and
two of them
more details of
her life story.
With her at the airport that night was
Mr Vinay Sindhutai Sapkal, who like
many others with no name of their own,
He usually accompanies his “mai”
(mother) on her travels.
“Mai found me abandoned at Pune
railway station when I was 1
old, and I have been with her since,” said
the 27-year-old, a Bachelor of Law grad-
uate who now runs the Mai Computer In-
stitute in Pune, one of her enterprises.
spoke to was
Ms Smita Pansare, 40, a divorcee, who
has been the superintendent of one of
Ms Sindhutai’s orphanages in Pune for
The commerce graduate, who did her
master’s in social work, with the help of
her mai, said: “This is my home, my fam-
ily. I want to dedicate my whole life to
working with mai. I am inspired by her.”
And Ms Sindhutai’s story is truly in-
She was born on Nov 14, 1948, to a cat-
tle-grazing family in Pimpri Meghe vil-
lage in Maharashtra’s Wardha district.
Ms Sindhutai was seen as an un-
wanted child and nicknamed Chindhi
(literally, a rag).
Nonetheless, her father wanted to ed-
ucate her and sent her to school, where
she wrote on the large leaves of a tree,
not being able to afford a slate.
Her schooling ended at the age of 10,
when she was married off to Mr Shrihari
Sapkal, a 34-year-old cowherd from the
neighbouring village of Navargaon. She
had borne him three sons by the time she
Ms Sindhutai’s strong personality as
an activist showed its first rebellious sign
around this time.
Though pregnant with her fourth
child, she agitated for the rights of the vil-
lagers against a local landlord, who then
spread a rumour that she had been un-
faithful to her husband.
Her neighbours began shunning her.
And, with their baby due, Mr Shrihari
thrashed her and threw her out of their
She gave birth to a girl in a cowshed.
All alone, she cut the umbilical cord
with a sharp stone. The next day, she
took the baby and trudged to her ances-
tral village, but her own family would
not accept her.
And so began her life of begging for
food and sleeping rough.
She found safety in cemeteries and
cremation grounds. The dead did not
bother her, and in a place like that, nor
would lecherous men.
But she was often desperately hun-
gry. It is said that she once found some
flour used in funeral rites, made dough
with it and cooked roti on a pyre.
Ms Sindhutai had a good voice and
could sing. She and her daughter, Ma-
mata, spent the next few years moving
from place to place, singing and begging.
As she did so, Ms Sindhutai came across
numerous homeless and abandoned chil-
She sheltered them from unsavoury
characters and fed them with the little
she earned. They called her mai and fol-
lowed her around.
As her brood of children grew, Ms
Sindhutai decided to leave Mamata at a
charity home in Pune so she wouldn’t be
tempted to favour her biological daugh-
ter over the other children.
“I am there for all those who have no
one,” she said.
Then came another dramatic turn in her
life. She heard about an Indo-Russian
cultural programme in Pune and tried to
go into the auditorium where it was be-
Initially, no one would allow the di-
shevelled woman in a torn sari to enter,
but she finally convinced a doorman to
let her in.
As soon as the function was over, she
boldly went up on stage, and before any-
one could stop her, she started singing a
The audience listened spellbound
and when she finished, they broke into
People wanted to know who she was
and what she did, and she told them
about her circumstances and the children
she cared for.
As word spread, she began to get invi-
tations to sing, and she also started to get
paid for her performances. In between
songs, she would talk about her orphans
and her plans. Eventually, she even sang
on radio and TV.
As her popularity grew, she started giv-
ing motivational talks, and people began
donating money to support her work.
In 1986, Ms Sindhutai opened her first
orphanage, the Savitribai Phule Magas-
vargiya Mulinche Vastigruha for tribal
girls in Chikhaldara.
She had been involved in a campaign
for the rights of the tribal people.
She has tried to do the best for her chil-
dren there and at her other two orphan-
Each is equipped with a computer
room, function hall, library, study room
and other facilities.
The children are cared for till the age
of 18 to 20, and they are equipped to
make a living and set up home on their
Many of them have become profes-
sionals – lawyers, lecturers, doctors,
nurses, accountants and managers.
Ms Sindhutai’s “family” now includes
282 sons-in-law, who married her girls,
and 48 daughters-in-law, who married
“There were never any internal mar-
riages between the orphanage girls and
boys who treated each other as siblings,”
Mr Deepak Sindhutai Sapkal Gaik-
wad, 54, now heads one of the orphan-
ages, the Mamata Bal Sadan in Pune.
He was 10 when she adopted him. He
said his father was an alcoholic and his
mother had abandoned him.
Later, he inherited two acres of land
from his grandfather. He donated the
land to Ms Sindhutai’s trust and the or-
phanage, where 55 girls are cared for, was
opened there in 1994.
Since 2001, Ms Mamata – Ms Sind-
hutai’s biological daughter – has been in
charge of the Sanmati Bal Niketan or-
phanage for 54 boys, also in Pune.
Before that she had spent time work-
ing with mai in various other capacities.
Some 30 years after Mr Shrihari threw
his young, pregnant wife out of their
home, he returned to Ms Sindhutai, seek-
ing forgiveness. And she accepted the el-
She would introduce him to visitors as
her oldest child. He lived at the Chikhal-
dara home till he died at the age of 92.
She said in a statement then: “I feel
that my most dangerous and difficult
child has left us.”
Their three biological sons are in
touch with her but are not involved in her
work. They continue to look after their fa-
A mother’s love... (Left) Ms Sindhutai with some of the children she cares
for and (above) feeding a girl in one of her orphanages.
Mother to a
She was thrown
out of her home
and ended up
caring not just for
her daughter but
“I am there for
all those who
— Ms Sindhutai Sapkal (right)
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