Clad in fluorescent pink uniforms and brandishing their ubiquitous bamboo sticks, the Gulabi Gang is a group of female activists that refuse to remain silent.
Its leader is the controversial and feisty Sampat Pal Devi: a Shepherd’s daughter who taught herself to read and write. Fed up with hearing of violent husbands and corrupt officials, Pal was compelled to create a movement to challenge the oppressive patriarchy and the ill-functioning law.
Pal’s vigilante group initially began in the Banada District of Uttar Pradesh: a deeply impoverished region riddled by severe social divisions, child marriages, female illiteracy and domestic violence. The sisterhood have publically shamed abusive husbands and interrogated police who have refused to acknowledge rape crimes. Having challenged dowry demands, they have prevented child marriages and have also encouraged female education. As well as solving gendered disputes, the group have battled against caste discrimination and bribery.
With no just law to fall back on, the Gulabis take matters into their own hands. They are a group of around 400,000 defiant women who are mostly from the lowest division of society, the Dalit (the untouchables). Like a quasi-neighbourhood watch, the gang are always on the lookout for trouble. Typically the group are informed of a distressing issue and, if the police fail to register their inquiry, the gang takes over. Their ‘Gulabi’ uniform, which translates to ‘pink’, is integral to their identity; they arrive as a pink swarming mass, jostling their laiths and shouting cries of equality. The bamboo sticks are symbolic of feminine power and resistance; however, their main function is to protect themselves from potentially violent men. Only when the men refuse to listen or attack the women, do they use their laiths defensively. On certain occasions, the Gulabis have been known to beat up corrupt policemen.
In 2008, the female crusaders stormed an electricity office demanding the supply to be switched back on. The community had been without electricity for over two weeks because corrupt officials had disconnected the power to extract bribes. However, the issue was hastily resolved by the actions of the Gulabi Gang. Another courageous pursuit included intervening a hijacked truck that was carrying food meant for the poor. The gang revealed that dishonest officials were intending to sell the commodities for their own profit.
Despite the gang’s growth, as a result of Pal’s increasing fame and her decision to pursue electoral politics, the group has split into two factions. However the Gulabi Gang is still very much present and is still committed to empowering women, resolving hypocrisies and championing equal rights.
For more information about the Gulabi Gang, please visit this link. [http://gulabigangofficial.in/]
This post was first written for and published by Morv London.