Sadly, despite the best intentions of a vast majority of people, injustice, abuse, and social inequality are still two concepts that run rampant across the globe. Sometimes though, even in the presence of such darkness, there are those that seek to do something about it.
In this rare story, one young woman saw injustice and abuse in her own backyard. Then, guided by her own suffering and a sense of right, she picked up her stick and chose to step out of the shadows and fix the problem…
It happens every day in countries all over the world. Women, many of whom were forced into marriage by either cultural norms, religious beliefs, or overbearing parents, are used and abused by their husbands. Most of these women lack the impetus to fight back, though for a good deal of them, that is merely a constraint of the culture in which they live.
Married at Twelve
Sampat Pal Devi of Uttar Pradesh, in the north of India, was only 12 years old when she was forced to marry a man much older than herself. When she was sixteen, she noticed that her next door neighbor was routinely abusing his wife. She kept silent about it for months, until one day, something inside her snapped…
Unable to stand by and do nothing any longer, Sampat Pal Devi picked up her lathi, an Indian fighting stick, and proceeded to beat the living daylights out of her neighbor’s husband. She had learned to stick-fight when she was younger and it seemed that all those hard-earned lessons were finally paying off.
Mend His Ways
When she was done beating the man, she went to her other female neighbors, many of whom had also been forced into marriage one way or another, and asked for their help. The women humiliated the browbeaten husband until he made a public announcement apologizing for all past misdeeds against his wife. What she didn’t realize at the time, was that she had started something spectacular…
Fix the Issue
India is a country that suffers from frequent, terrifying female abuse problem. Poor people like Sal Devi and her neighbor are particularly vulnerable to such abuse and rarely, if ever, receive any police protection. It was on that day, as she watched the abuser ask for the world’s forgiveness, that she realized she could do so much more.
A Brilliant Idea
At first, it may seem somewhat counter-intuitive to smash rapists and wife-beaters with sticks: and make no mistake, it is. However, the proof was in the pudding. It was clear from the get-go that Sal Devi’s plan could work on a much broader scale. She just needed to find a few more women to help her out. And find them she did…
First, the ladies in Sal Devi’s neighborhood joined up. Then, the town, followed by the province. Before she knew it, the public-spirited woman had created a movement of thousands of volunteers. As of today, the Gulabi Gang, as it was soon to be known, has amassed over 400,000 members: men and women.
The Gulabi Gang are essentially vigilantes of course, and they certainly fit the description we have all become accustomed to in the super hero comics. The gang members all wear bright colors, mostly hot pink saris, and most of them carry lathis with them just in case. It’s also not only spousal abuse they fight against…
The Gulabi Gang patrols poor neighborhoods, fighting rapists wherever they find them and hauling them out into the light so everyone can see what they are. “Yes, we fight rapists with lathis. If we find the culprit, we thrash him black and blue so he dare not attempt to do wrong to any girl or a woman again,” explains Sampat Pal Devi.
Suman Singh, the groups deputy commander is responsible for membership in the group.”When a woman seeks the membership of Gulabi Gang, it is because she has suffered injustice, has been oppressed and does not see any other recourse. All our women can stand up to the men and if need be seek retribution through lathis.” And like the Hell’s Angels, this particularly feisty gang has a pretty wide reach…
Spreading the Word
Since that first fateful beating, the Gulabi Gang has spread across 11 Indian territories. Over the years, they have come up with a proven methodology for crime fighting that, surprisingly for a group of quarrelsome ladies seeking retribution, begins with contacting the police to report the crime.
However, it seems this step is just a formality, as the police rarely follow up at all in most cases. Once they have observed the requisite social nicety, they then move on to the fun part. They warn the man that if he doesn’t stop the abuse, that he will be sorry. If the man is smart, he heeds their words and promises to be a better man. If he isn’t…
Price for Refusal
If the abuser refuses, then the Gulabi Gang does what they do best: they beat him with sticks. It’s not much more complicated than this, and frankly, it doesn’t really need to be. Once you’ve been beaten to a bloody pulp, you are either disinclined to abuse more women, or unable to do so. In most abuse cases, the grateful wife even joins the gang.
While the prospect of pink-sari-wearing avengers beating the guilty with lathis is a novel idea, it is not the Gulabi Gang’s only function. The gang’s main goal has always been to help the downtrodden. To that end, they travel to the poorest villages in India to make sure the government is properly distributing food and recognizing basic human rights. Which is not always easy…
The gang also fights against child marriages, such as the one that befell Sampat Pal Devi. They also provide abused victims with a safe environment and even help prevent things like “dowry death.” This horrible practice occurs when women are murdered or driven to suicide by continued harassment and torture by husbands and in-laws in an effort to extort an increased dowry.
Equality for All
Despite all they fight against, the Gulabi Gang also believe in the power of love. So much so that they even help loving couples get married and work to undo India’s caste system. They want the poor to be free to choose their own destinies the same as the wealthy and they will do anything to make this a reality, even if it means beating abusive men with sticks…
The all-women vigilante group has, unsurprisingly, found itself in the spotlight in recent years. The Gulabi Gang, also sometimes known as the Pink Gang, has inspired two films: a full-length feature film about their exploits, and of course a documentary. Both serve to grow the mystique of the amazing group and give people hope.
“The justice system in Bundelkhand (India) is dysfunctional and unreliable,” explains journalist Amana Fontanella Khan. Khan is also the author of Pink Saree Revolution, a book detailing the exploits of the Gulabi Gang. She went on to explain that the group has helped gender equality and freedom to become more of a reality in India than she ever thought possible…
There are some that believe the Gulabi Gang has stepped into the vacuum left by the state. In one sense, they offer poor people an alternative means of attaining justice, but on the other, they also represent the worrying presence and influence of rampant social justice and vigilantism.
And yet, the gang has even won the grudging recognition of state authorities who believe that the Gulabi Gang is not a bad thing at all. Arvind Sen, superintendent of police of Banda district has said of the gang, “The Gulabi Gang has created such a force of women’s rights and awakening that it has brought a new desire to fight against women’s exploitation.”