The Gulabi Gang - an example in itself!
Founded in 2006 by Sampat Lal Devi, the Gulabi Gang is a group of Indian women vigilantes and activists who are originally from Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh. Sampat Lal Devi was herself a child bride. Having been a mother of five and a former government health worker, she resolved to make some concrete contribution as retaliation against domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women, which are, till date, quite widespread. Her gang is reported to be active across north India. The members of this gang wear pink sarees (that is where they derive their name, “gulabi” from) and literally pursue corrupt officials and boorish men, and make them pay for their “sins”.
Hailing from one of the poorest districts in the country, and one that is typically laden with a patriarchal culture, rigid caste system, female illiteracy, domestic violence, child labour, child marriages, dowry demands etc., the members of this gang are wielding bamboo sticks in pursuit of justice. Today, the gang has expanded itself to be a revolutionary, one-of-its kind women’s movement, having garnered the participation of tens of thousands of women members (In 2008, it was reported to have 20,000 members). Besides, they have also got many male supporters and successful interventions till date. They have resolutely dedicated themselves to the cause of social upliftment, by ensuring proper distribution of food-grains to people below the poverty line, disbursement of pension to elderly widows, preventing women and children abuse, and so on. They generally accost male offenders and make them see reason, while more serious offenders, who refuse to relent, are put to shame in public to teach them a lesson. If in any case, the men resort to force, the women take to their ‘lathis’, but are never deterred in their mission.
The Pink sisterhood thus adopt the policies of both direct action and confrontation, to bring about system changes at the grassroots level. Though the interventions are mostly on women’s behalf, but even the male community call upon them to challenge any form of injustice, be it male dominion over women, or any human right abuse or violation that victimise the weaker party. Being driven by the motto of- what cannot be endured must be cured, the gang once stormed an electricity office in Banda district and compelled the officials to turn back the power, which has been cut with the motive of extracting bribes. They also fight vehemently against such ills as child marriages, dowry and female illiteracy. With a vision to uprooting every form of injustice against the powerless, the gang supports and trains women to enhance their basic skills with the aim of making them economically secure. Thus, consequently, they shall develop sufficient confidence to protect themselves from abuse and also pursue sustainable options of earning a livelihood.
The gang has been felicitated with the Godfrey Phillips Bravery Award and the Kelvinator 11th GR8! Women’s Award, an initiative of the Indian Television Academy. Perhaps when the well-established organs of the societal system fail to enforce justice, women are compelled to raise a strong voice of their own. This phenomenon can best be exemplified by these pink women of Banda who shun political parties and NGOs. To put it in the words of their feisty leader, “they are always looking for kickbacks when they offer to fund us.”