BY: LISA CUMMING
A hurricane of pink is rumbling through India, and it has been for almost a decade now.
The Gulabi (Pink) Gang, formally established in 2006, by Sampat Pal Devi in the Banda District of Uttar Pradesh is an all-women–movement that aims to dismantle rural India’s culture of patriarchy and domestic violence.
The movement was originally formed in the 1990s to “to empower women, promote child education with an emphasis on girls, and stop corruption and domestic violence,” Sampat Pal Devi said in an interview with Vice.
The illegal practices of dowries, child marriages, and selective abortions are still very much a part of rural India’s very old, deep-rooted patriarchal values. Due to the systemic discrimination of women, it is not uncommon for the men accused of perpetrating any form of abuse to respond with force to silence victims. To combat this, and protect themselves, the women in the Gulabi Gang carry around lathis and are trained in the stick fighting practice called Lathi Khela, although this tactic is only used as a last resort.
The gang has come under fire for their tactics. Allegations against the gang assert their tactics of defense are too violent, but in a country like India where – according to the Indian National Crime Records Bureau, in a 2013 annual report – there were 24,923 cases of rape reported, 94% of rape victims knowing their attacker. With this number only representing the number of women courageous enough to report their abuse, crucifying the tactics of a group backed into a corner, rather than the system that forces them to fight their way out, may be a more than a little counterproductive.
The Gulabi Gang is made up mostly from women who come from, not only, poor backgrounds but also, what is known as “the Untouchables caste”.
The caste system in India is a traditional system of social stratification that has been in place for the past 1,500 years. The system was created on the principle that not all men are created created equal. The system divides its people into four legitimate plus one illegitimate groupings. The Brahmins are the essential segment of the population for extending and preserving knowledge; the Kshatriyas, that house individuals who are considered public servants; the Vaishyas are the categorization of those who are considered businessmen or traders and the Shudras are technically considered the bottom group, or those who work as semi/un-skilled labourers.
Far below the “bottom” or “lowest” group lies the Dalits, or the Untouchables. The Untouchables are the people considered completely unworthy of a proper grouping. Most of the Untouchables live in rural areas, where the Gulabi Gang was in turn formed.
In the 2012 documentary Gulabi Gang, filmmaker Nishtha Jain traveled with members of the gang for six months. “Dalit is not just a caste, women, the poor – I see all oppressed people as Dalit,” Sampat Pal Devi says. “Our country has always been patriarchal, boys aren’t outcasts— only girls are. Women themselves become enemies of women. This organization was needed primarily to raise women’s consciousness, I formed the Gulabi Gang to unite women.”
Despite Sampat Pal Devi’s resignation from the gang, the movement shows no sign of slowing down. Boasting an impressive network of 270,000 women seeking alternative justice, the gang not only combats the culture of sexual violence in India; they help empower women and citizens of the lower caste categories along the way.
One of the most famous cases of bringing justice to many people was in June 2007. According to a case study done on the gang by Atreyee Sen, the Gulabi Gang was told of a government-run fair-price shop refusing to give out grain to poorer civilians. Sampat and her gang intercepted two trucks full of grain marked “Below Poverty Line”, meant for the impoverished citizens, just as they were to be sold on the open market. Despite having evidence, local authorities refused to register the case, and hand over the grain to citizens in need. Angry gang members assaulted one of the police officers on site. The incident was just one of many altercations to come in the struggle for equal footing.
In 2008, Sampat Pal Devi, along with the rest of the Gulabi Gang set up a school called Gulabi Gang Bal Vidyalaya in the Banda District where the movement was originally started.
To empower women, the Gulabi Gang also focuses on the education of girls, realizing that although physical protest and organization are beneficial for their immediacy, education is the only route to balance the arms of the scales of equality.