An all women vigilante squad steals the prevalent attention by wielding sticks and catching villains.
Meet the ‘Pink-Saree Crusaders’ of India, the ‘Lathi’ vigilantes who by the power of unity and sisterhood strike fear into the hearts of potential abusers – The Gulabi Gang. Sampatpal Devi and her gang have been following one dream without yielding for the last thirteen years. Protecting the powerless from abuse and fighting corruption in rural areas to ensure basic rights for the poor and to discourage traditions such as child marriages.
History of Gulabi Gang
Founder of Gulabi Gang Sampat Pal Devi was born in Uttar Pradesh, in a small, dusty town of Banda, Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. Married soon afterwards at the age of 12 with five children to support, Sampat Pal was eking out a living as a vegetable seller. She witnessed a man beating his wife one day in 2006, and wanted to interfere. She could not stop him herself, so she gathered a few local ladies, and they thrashed the abuser together for his misdeeds. News of small-scale activism gesture by Sampat Pal spread like wildfire.
Sampat Pal and her cohorts had effectively upended traditional Indian taboos in a society which so often silences women.
Strength is a Shade of Pink
The group is popularly known for its members adorned with pink saris — gulabi in Hindi means “Pink.”
Gulabi Gang has fought all kinds of violence against women over the past 13 years. They also prohibited child marriages, arranged love-marriages and ensured that the poorest of the poor were granted basic rights. They also promote and oversee community events which bring women together. The group also vigorously protested by police against numerous cases of discrimination and malpractice.
The Gulabi Gang, which is primarily a women’s party, also allows men to participate in solidarity.
The movement has caused a number of women-led cottage industries and self-help groups to grow. The Gulabi Gang, which developed into an army of over 400,000 women’s rights fighters, gained national attention in 2011 when it organized mass protests in front of a police station for a 17-year-old Sheelu Nishad, who was raped by a local politician and wrongly accused of theft in an effort to silence her.
The successful intervention of Sampat Pal inspired her to mobilize a group of women Vigilantes known as the Gulabi Gang, a name that refers to the pink saris they wear. The group grabbed international headlines inspiring a feature-length film and the 2012 award-winning Gulabi Gang documentary.
The power of stick
From fighting violence against women, preventing child marriages, arranging couple weddings in love amid local opposition, to ensuring granting basic rights to the poorest of the poor, the dream of the Gulabi Gang is to ‘shield the marginalized from harassment and fight corruption’ has found simple resonance across much of India’s hinterland, blighted by endless stories of sex crimes and gang rapes.
“If a woman seeks Gulabi Gang membership, it’s because she has suffered injustice, has been oppressed, and sees no other solution,” says Suman Singh, the group’s deputy leader, from district Mahoba.
Bundelkhand is one of the poorest regions in India, with more than 40 per cent of the population living below the poverty line trapped in the endless cycles of hardship, drought and undernourishment. The area has also spread across the two provinces of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in the past, from the valiant princess ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’ who rebelled against British colonial rule to the more recent Phoolan Devi who tried rebellion against her rapists by turning into a bandit.
Author: Pallavi Bhagat
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