Article : Banda
An Article About Pink-Clad Female Vigilantes Are
Challenging Male Violence And Corruption
" In one of India's poorest regions, hundreds of pink-clad female vigilantes are challenging male violence and corruption. Raekha Prasad meets the Gulabi Gang
Under a scorching summer sun, a swarm of 400 furious women engulfed the scruffy electricity office of
Banda district in north India. They were all dressed identically in fluorescent pink saris. For more than a fortnight they and their families had had no electricity, plunged into darkness at dusk and stewed in sweat at dawn. But they had all been sent bills demanding payment for power they had never received.
It was at noon one day last May that the group, brandishing sticks, first surrounded and then charged into the office, punching the air and shouting slogans of solidarity. They wanted to confront the officer in charge but met instead his cowering juniors, at whom they bawled to telephone the boss. When the man refused to come to the office, the women became incensed. They snatched the office key, roughed up the terrified staff and, after herding them outside, locked the door and ran away, vowing to return the key only when they had electricity again.
There are few places on earth where life is as short and brutal as in Bundelkhand, the desolate region straddling the southern tip of Uttar Pradesh where Banda lies. Farming is the principal livelihood; wages are as little as 60p a day for men and half that for women. Bonded and child labour are rife. Corruption is routine. Its reputation in India is that of a place where people still die of hunger.
But what has made Bundelkhand infamous is banditry. Scores born out of feudalism and caste violence are settled by bullets. It was here that
Phoolan Devi, the Bandit Queen of India, used to lead her gang of robbers in vicious acts of retribution on rich, upper-caste villagers. Products of this cruel environment, the hundreds of pink-clad women knew that their electricity supply had been disconnected by corrupt officials to extract bribes from them to get the power switched back on. With no functioning law to fall back on, they knew also that the only way to get a power supply was to take matters into their own hands. Within an hour of their absconding with the key, the electricity was restored.
It is just one victory in a list of successes achieved by the Gulabi Gang since it formed two years ago. Gulabi means pink, and refers to the electric shade of the uniform worn by the 500-plus members, who hail from Banda's arid villages. The women have become folk heroes, winning public support for a series of Robin Hood-style operations. Their most daring exploit was to hijack trucks laden with food meant for the poor that was being taken to be sold for profit at the market by corrupt officials.
The targets of the Gulabi Gang's vigilantism are corrupt officials and violent husbands. The gang has stopped child marriages, forced police officers to register cases of domestic violence - by slapping them - and got roads built by dragging the official responsible from his desk on to the dust track in question.
The gang is led, and was created by, 46-year-old Sampat Devi Pal. When I meet her, she is demonstrating self-defence moves with a stick. "We always carry them but only for protection," she explains, twisting the weapon high over her head and thwacking it hard against her opponent's.
The daughter of a shepherd, Pal was put to work on the family's land while her brothers went to school. Married at 12 to a 20-year-old man from a neighbouring village whom she had never met, she was pregnant by 15. She wanted to be sterilised after having two daughters but her mother-in-law wouldn't allow it until she had produced a son. Another four children followed.
Courtesy : Guardian.co.uk