Hello, Lovelies! Welcome to this week’s blog post featuring the Gulabi Gang! If you’re interested in finding out more about this group and possibly supporting them, Click Here! Below you will find info on the podcast featured during this week’s drink break, Tiffany’s notes, and sources at the bottom.

This week’s drink break is brought to you by the awesome Frigay the 13th Podcast! FriGay the 13th is a podcast that explores horror–in real life AND in the movies–from an LGBT perspective. Join co-hosts Andrew (expert in the movies side of things) and Matty (expert in the politics side of things) for a fun ride through it all! Click Here or on the logo to give them a listen!

Tiffany’s Notes:

Robin Hood, Batman, Zorro, Shaft, The Punisher, Blade, John Wick

What do these famous people have in common with 400,000 women in Uttar Pradesh, India?

They are all wonderful vigilantes.  The only difference, The Gulabi Gang actually exists and is kicking butt in the most fantastic way.

Would you like to meet India’s ‘pink-saree crusaders’, the rod wielding vigilantes that strike fear into the hearts of potential abusers through the power of unity and sisterhood?

Sampat Pal is a 59 year old mother of five who has always believed in justice and equality.  As a girl, she taught herself how to read and write and briefly attended school. As the daughter of peasants, she was forced to marry a 25-year-old man soon after she reached puberty, at the age of 12.

“I was taken out of school when I didn’t yet know how to read and write, and I became a slave in the house of my in-laws,” she recalls.  Three years later, she gave birth to the first of her five children, who arrived “in a row, one every year”.

Her story is not unique. Bundelkhand (Boon-dell-kand) is one of India’s most impoverished regions, with more than 40 percent of the population living below the poverty line trapped in the unending cycles of hardships, drought and illiteracy.  There were 3,025 reported cases of rape in 2017, in 2016, 15,898 cases of kidnapping and 2,473 reported cases of dowry deaths.  Keep in mind, these numbers are just for the REPORTED incidents. I can only imagine how many go unreported. Female illiteracy is at 47% and evils like infanticide, child marriages and domestic violence are rampant. Further, caste-based oppression and violence against untouchables also abound in this region.

As for Sampat, when she saw a man beating a woman in the street, Pal intervened and was beaten, too. The next day, she gathered five women in her village and together they and their bamboo sticks beat up the man who had attacked her.  When word spread about what she had done, women started coming to her with their stories and requests for help.

Over time, Sampat’s strength of character won the respect of her in-laws, and she began working as a volunteer with local women’s rights groups but by 2006, she had started the Gulabi Gang because she was frustrated by their lack of progress.

So what is the Gulabi Gang?

Gulabi Gang literally translates into Pink Gang.

According to their website, their vision is to Protect the powerless from abuse and fight corruption to ensure basic rights of the poor in rural areas and discourage traditions like child-marriages.

Those who join the Gulabi Gang are registered, given a small ID card and wear a distinctive uniform: a pink sari. For a 500 rupee (HK$60) annual fee they also get a bamboo stick to carry. Sampat has said, “It is intended to protect us but it is also used to threaten and, if necessary, to beat up abusers.”

As to their causes, Pal notes “Eradicating child marriage and the dowry tradition, acting firmly against domestic violence and promoting the empowerment of women through education and social awareness,”

“Many argue that those are rights already protected by our constitution, but the problem doesn’t lie with the law, which is good, but with its implementation. We live in a violent patriarchy that permeates all institutions, especially the police and politicians at the highest level.” – Pal

Their process:

  • Learn of an injustice
  • Ask for it to be fixed
  • “We are in the field every day to meet with women,” she said. “If the police, for instance, does not listen to a woman we collectively go to the concerned police station and get her complaint lodged,” she explained.
  • Publicly shame the culprit,
    • They hold marches and protests calling out injustice
    • And if that doesn’t work…
  • Out come the sticks!

“People laughed at my ideas. I know my position seems radical but sometimes the stick is the only way to achieve change.”

People she has helped:

  • In 2007, a Dalit woman was raped by a man of a higher caste and the incident went unreported. The villagers and members of the lower caste protested to no avail and many of them were put into prison for doing so. The Gulabi Gang took action, charged into the police station and attempted to free the villagers who were put into prison for protesting. They also demanded that a case be made against the rapist and when the policeman refused to make a case, they resorted to violence and physically attacked him. From that time, the Gulabi Gang was known to use physical violence if needed to make a point and if physical violence was of no use, then they would resort to publicly shaming the offender. Despite becoming popular for its violent approach to much of its activism, it also uses non-violent tactics such as marches and occupations.
  • Soman’s husband was held captive for three years after being kidnapped by a local gang over a property dispute. While he was away, Soman relied exclusively on Pal for help finding him; she claims the police were paid not to interfere in the investigation. Pal collected donations of grains and pulses for Soman from other gang members, and organized protest marches to demand the police help track down her husband. “What Sampat has done for me, I will never forget in my whole life,” Soman says. “Without her, our enemies surely would have killed us.”
  • Pal worked to help a 17-year-old girl, Sheelu Nishad, who’d been gang-raped by a group of men, including one she identified as a member of the local legislature, Purushottam Dwivedi. Nishad went to the police, but instead of being questioned, she was arrested—it turned out her attacker had already called the police, accusing her of theft. Her father went to Pal for help. “I was nervous and crying and somebody suggested I go to the gang,” Pal organized an agitation in front of the police station, and later in front of the legislature’s house. So effective was her intervention that the legislature was arrested, and Rahul Gandhi, the heir to the Gandhi family’s political throne, traveled the 370 miles from New Delhi to meet the girl. “She is a very good lady,” Nishad says of Pal. “She has told the world about my plight.” Nishad consequently mobilized 20,000 angry women across Bundelkhand, forming her own ‘Nagin Gang’ as a parallel outfit to Sampath Pal’s Gulabi Gang.

Janki Devi’s relationship with the man she fell in love with was never an easy one. She was only 15 when she met twenty-something Anand Kumar, with whom she would lose her virginity a few months later. Not surprisingly, both sets of parents opposed the union. In rural areas of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, as is the case across the country, marriages are still arranged by the families of those involved, regardless of romantic feelings, and are based on religion, caste, economic status and political relations between the two clans. Love, they say, comes with time and routine. Janki Devi and Kumar’s parents demanded that they stop seeing each other. In defiance, the couple married in secret. In 2006, as per Indian tradition, Janki Devi moved into the home her husband shared with his parents. And so began her nightmare. Janki Devi and her husband were unable to conceive a child.  Because of this, Anand’s parents doused her with petrol and set light to her. Neighbors rushed her to hospital but that night Janki Devi died. When her parents tried to lodge a complaint with the police, the officers refused to register it. Janki Devi was just one of the more than 300,000 women who each year are the victims of violence in India – a country where, according to official statistics from 2013, a woman is abducted every 10 minutes and one is raped every 20 minutes. UNABLE TO FILE A COMPLAINT with the police against Kumar’s family, who belong to a higher caste and are influential, Janki Devi’s father, Dinesh Prasad Panday, saught justice elsewhere: the Gulabi Gang (“pink gang”).  Once Pal heard his story and looked at the harrowing photographs he took in the hospital of his badly burned daughter, Pal grabbed her phone and called the police station where the vice-chief of police had refused to see Panday.  Pal needs only to say her name to grab the senior officer’s attention. She warned that, if an investigation into the death of Janki Devi was not opened promptly, the station will be besieged by enraged women. The investigation opened almost immediately.

  • A distressed woman whose husband had been picked up by the police and locked up for days had approached Pal after policemen gave her no information about the grounds for his imprisonment. “I accompanied the woman to the police station and asked the constable: ‘why have you detained her husband?’” she recalled. “He started abusing me and picked up his lathi to beat me. I parried the blow and instead hit him with the lathi,” she said. The man was eventually freed and so was Pal after spending a night behind bars.

These women are bad-asses!  And they join for many reasons.  One member stated: “We are here to help each other. The benefit of joining is that if any of us is exploited we stand up for each other.”

Another said, “ I am here for my education. I learn about my rights here.”

At the formation of the gang, force and violence were used against the police and government.  Overtime, they have developed a good repour with some of the local police. “the gang is doing some good work and, in a way, help us solve issues.”

And do you think they mind beating up assholes? “We fight rapists with lathis [sticks]. 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.”

I’m taking that as a no.

So along with fight for the downtrodden, they also teach women self-defense and how to be economically self-sufficient.

The mission listed on their website is to Support and train women to enhance their basic skills to become economically secure and develop confidence to protect themselves from abuse through sustainable livelihood options.

Prema Rambahori, a Dalit woman, set up a leaf-plate making business in Bangalipura community of Badausa village, with the help of Sampat Pal. Adjacent towns and communities source these environment-friendly plates for weddings and various other functions. The work has expanded, and currently, Prema employs 500 women of the community, each earning up to 150 rupees per day.

Her work became the subject of books and television documentaries, something that brought in money to her organization, which is a registered non-profit.

The cash inflow allowed her to introduce skill-development programs for women. She bought sewing machines to set up six stitching centers for girls in the Bundelkhand region which are mostly run by women from their homes, including three of her daughters. The instructors charge a monthly fee of 400 rupees ($6) and after some training the girls independently earn about 3,000 rupees ($44) every month.

Pal also started a co-ed school in Roli Kalyanpur, her husband’s village, where she previously had been shunned. At the Gulabi Gang Children’s School about 250 students are taught from grades one through eight at a nominal monthly fee of 10 rupees (14c) in a makeshift school building.

The Gulabi Gang also helps to fund affordable wedding for couples who are marrying for love. (using the leaf-plates mentioned above!)

“If we women don’t save ourselves, nobody will.”

what cannot be endured must be cured! – website

However, every movement has its share of problems, and the Gulabi Gang is no exception. The group has been fervently criticized for its use of violence to get justice, and Pal stepped down in 2014 following charges of corruption. She eventually followed a path in politics, while the Gulabi Gang continues its fight against human rights abuses without the effervescent leader.