(ARTICLE) BBC News Spotlight at 'Gulabi Gang'

(ARTICLE) BBC News Spotlight at 'Gulabi Gang'

India's 'pink' vigilante women

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Banda

Members of the 'gulabi gang'
The 'pink' gang has staged protests against corrupt officials

They wear pink saris, the traditional Indian dress for women, go after corrupt officials and boorish men, and brandish sticks and axes when the push comes to shove.

The several hundred vigilante women of India's northern Uttar Pradesh state's Banda area proudly call themselves the "gulabi gang" (pink gang) striking fear in the hearts of wrongdoers and earning the grudging respect of officials.

The pink women of Banda shun political parties and NGOs because, in the words of their feisty leader, Sampat Pal Devi, "they are always looking for kickbacks when they offer to fund us".

Two years after they gave themselves a name and an attire, the pink women have thrashed men who have abandoned or beaten their wives and unearthed corruption in the distribution of food grains for the poor.

They have also stormed a police station and thrashed a policeman after they took in an untouchable man and refused to register a case.


"Nobody comes to our help in these parts. The officials and the police are corrupt and anti-poor. So sometimes we have to take the law in our hands. At other times, we prefer to shame the wrongdoers," says Sampat Pal Devi, between teaching a "gang" member on how to use a lathi (traditional Indian stick) in self defence.


We are a gang for justice
Sampat Pal Devi


Banda is at the heart of the blighted region that is Bundelkhand, one of the poorest parts of one of India's most populous states.

It is one of the poorest 200 districts in India which were first targeted for the federal government's massive jobs for work programme. Over 20% of its 1.6 million people living in 600 villages are lower castes or untouchables. Drought has parched its already arid, single-crop lands.

Banda road (Pic: Soutik Biswas)
Banda is one of the poorest districts in Uttar Pradesh

To make matters worse, women bear the brunt of poverty and discrimination in Banda's highly caste-ridden, feudalistic and male dominated society. Dowry demands, domestic and sexual violence are common.

Locals say it is not surprising that a women's vigilante group has sprung up in this landscape of poverty, discrimination and chauvinism.

Sampat Pal Devi is a wiry woman, wife of an ice cream vendor, mother of five children, and a former government health worker who has birthed and led the "pink gang".

"Mind you," she says, "we are not a gang in the usual sense of the term. We are a gang for justice."

'Uproot the corrupt'

Her seeds of rebellion were sown very early on when in face of her parents' resistance to send her to school, she began writing and drawing on the walls, floors, and dust caked village streets.

She finally ended up going to school, but was married off when she was nine in a region where child marriages are common. At 12, she went to live with her husband, and at 13, she had her first child.


Sampat Devi (Pic: Soutik Biswas)
Sampat Pal Devi says nobody helps the poor


To keep the home fires burning, Sampat Devi began to work as a government health worker, but she quit after a while because her job was not satisfying enough.

"I wanted to work for the people, not for myself alone. I was already holding meetings with people, networking with women who were ready to fight for a cause, and was ready with a group of women two years ago," she says.

Sitting outside a home in Attara, Sampat Devi waves her calloused hands, breaks into a rousing song to "uproot the corrupt and be self reliant", and animatedly talks to women - and men - who flock to her with their problems.

A mother brings in her weeping daughter who has been thrown out by her husband demanding 20,000 rupees from her parents.

"He married me for the love of money," sobs Malti.

Sampat Devi tells her "gang" that they will soon march to the girls house and demand an explanation from the husband. "If they don't take her back and keep her well, we will resort to other measures," she says.

'No handouts'

The pink sorority is not exactly a group of male-bashing feminists - they claim they have returned 11 girls who were thrown out of their homes to their spouses because "women need men to live with".

That is also why men like Jai Prakash Shivhari join the "gulabi" gang and talk with remarkable alacrity about child marriages, dowry deaths, depleting water resources, farm subsidies, and how funds are being stolen in government works.

"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," he says.

The women in the "gulabi gang" echo the same sentiment - but Sampat Devi has a separate agenda for women.

'Gulabi gang' members learning to fight with sticks (Pic: Soutik Biswas)
The women thrashed a policeman in protest against the arrest of a poor man

"Village society in India is loaded against women. It refuses to educate them, marries them off too early, barters them for money. Village women need to study and become independent to sort it out themselves," she says.

Where do the pink women go from here?

They already claimed to have done some work in combating crime and corruption in the area. Last year, Sampat Devi contested the state polls as an independent candidate and mustered only 2,800 votes.

"Joining politics is not my chosen way to help people. We will keep up our good work, so the state does not take us for granted," she says.

In the badlands of Uttar Pradesh where nothing seems to work for the poor, this itself is a laudable aim.





गुलाबी गैंग कमांडर गयी जेल, नहीं मिल सकी बेल

अतर्रा (बांदा)। डेढ़ वर्ष पूर्व आंदोलन के दौरान दरोगा के साथ हाथापाई के मुकदमे में वांछित गुलाबी गैंग कमांडर संपतपाल के समर्पण करते ही अदालत ने जेल भेज दिया। इस सूचना से कुछ देर के लिए तहसील परिसर में सनसनी फैल गई।

तीन अगस्त, 06 को महिलाओं के साथ हुई नाइंसाफी के मुद्दे पर सैकड़ों महिलाओं के साथ गुलाबी गैंग कमांडर संपतपाल ने थाने में प्रदर्शन किया था। दरोगा से तकरार पर हाथापाई की नौबत आ गई थी। पुलिस ने संपतपाल को घटना का जिम्मेदार मानते हुए उनके सहित कई दर्जन महिलाओं को नामजद किया था। ग्यारह धाराओं में मुकदमा दर्ज किया था। 147/06 में नामजद महिला सुशीला को पुलिस ने गिरफ्तार कर जेल भेज दिया था, जबकि संपतपाल ने इलाहाबाद हाईकोर्ट की शरण ली थी। जहां से बकौल संपतपाल स्टे आर्डर प्राप्त था। इधर कोर्ट ने दोबारा इस मामले में गैर जमानती वारंटी जारी कर देने पर बुधवार को स्थानीय सिविल न्यायालय में संपतपाल ने आत्मसमर्पण कर दिया। सुनवाई न्यायालय में उन्हें हिरासत में ले लिया गया और बाद में महिला सिपाही बुला जेल भेज दिया गया। इस सूचना से तहसील परिसर में सनसनी फैल गई। जमानत की सुनवाई के लिए 20 दिसंबर तय है। दूसरी तरफ न्यायालय के बाहर कस्टडी में संपतपाल ने कहा कि जेल जाने का कोई मलाल नहीं है। समाज की समस्याओं की लड़ाई के लिए संघर्ष करती रहूंगी।

Courtesy: Jagran