It all began when the women of the area realized that they couldn’t rely on the local authorities to help them in a number of situations that they faced. Banda happens to be one of the poorest districts in the country and thus, corruption is at an utmost high. For this and a number of reasons, the women in the area saw themselves facing nonstop violence – verbal, physical and sexual abuse. In a predominantly male dominated area where the feudal system still reigned supreme, it was Sampat Pal Devi who decided she had had enough. She gathered up a number of women who were in a similar situation to hers and before they knew it, The Gulabi Gang had formed.
Devi, the founder, is known as a leader in her district. Besides playing wife to an ice-cream vendor and mother to five children, she is also the leader of the group. She and people in neighboring areas, were not surprised that such a group has formed. Devi claims however, that they are not a gang in the traditional sense. They are not out to create havoc. “We are a gang for justice,” she says. She felt that in an area where poverty, discrimination and male chauvinism is prominent, such a movement was necessary.
Her story is unique in itself. After being denied an education and married off at the tender age of 9, Sampat Pal Devi, was married off to her husband. At 13, she became a mother for the first time. Realizing the need to help support her increasing family, she became a government health worker but soon gave that up too for a more fruitful job. Her reason for creating the Gulabi Gang? Simple. Tired of working for the sole reason of making money, she wanted to work for the people.
The Gulabi Gang have walked into local police stations armed with sticks and beaten authorities who have simply shooed them away. Why? Because they are women. Local politicians too have not been spared. They would like to give the group donations in hopes to buy their votes but the ladies know better. “We don't want donations or handouts. We don't want appeasement or affirmative action. Give us work, pay us proper wages and restore our dignity,” they all sing in unison.
On the flip side, Pal has seen a darker side to her mission. There are a number of criminal charges against her including rioting and battering government employees. Her reason for holding the stick is simple: to create fear amidst the men who feel that they can push women around. So yes, they do work as a vigilante group; but not to the effect that they are being made out to be. It probably won’t end as nicely; definitely not. These women will be pushed to the ultimate limit. They may land up dead. But they have already started a revolution.
So here’s the deal. Perhaps her approach is incorrect but at the heart of it, all these women want are to be treated as equals. Ultimately, they’d like a chance at education and the choice to be independent. India as a country is on the rise but sadly, rural India is still living in a time capsule. Politicians go on and on about literacy and the importance of it. But let’s not confuse literacy with education; there is a huge difference. Knowing your alphabets doesn’t constitute an education.
And has anyone thought to think for a minute that if these women weren't driven to the edge, then perhaps they wouldn’t have felt the need to take on this mission. Now when they finally see themselves as women who are making a difference and can finally see their worth which was denied to them from childhood, then we tag them as imbeciles and criminals. Why the hypocritism?
The justice system in India is in dire need of reform. Until then, this is a movement that shows no sign of stopping.
The Gulabi Girls Site: http://gulabigang.org/