Not all heroes wear capes, at least not the Gulabi gang; they wear sarees. They women vigilante group in India who are identified by their pink saris and bamboo sticks!
The sight of women marching around the streets of India might seem fascinating and non-threatening or like a scene from a bollywood movie, but these women mean business. In a country where all sorts of abuse against women make rounds everyday, the actions carried out by these women are usually the only form of justice most victims get.
In 2013, there were over 1,963 reported cases of rape, 7,910 reported cases of kidnapping and 2,244 cases of dowry death in the Uttar Pradesh province in India. And the numbers continue to rise.
Gulabi – gulaab in Hindi means pink or rose. Challenges sometimes lead to amazing opportunities. Sampat Devi Pal, the founder of the pink gang, has had her share of what being a woman in rural India is like. She taught herself to read from her brothers because she was not initially allowed to go to school. She was finally allowed to go up until the age of 12 when she was married off to an ice cream seller.
At 15, she had her first child and by 20, 5 kids. As an activist, she has worked to promote women education. The gang was formally set in 2006. Devi’s first knowledge of the power of the stick was way back in the 80s when she used it against a neighbour who abused his wife. Her method worked. He was forced to change his ways. What started as a group of five friends now boasts of over 40,000 members across 11 districts of India’s largest province of Uttar Pradesh.
The gang works by charging a $4 membership fee. They are given pink saris and bamboo sticks. Women travel from all over, for some in spite of dangers that might be lurking around dark and isolated roads to lay down their grief in the hope that justice will be done. In India’s crippled and backward rural society, their law and judicial system is just as crippled. The police and the community are not bothered; how else do you explain constant increase in women maltreatment and abuse? In areas like this, men reign supreme and are never reprimanded for their actions. Women are treated worse than animals! Simply put, men are predators, women are prey. After stories have been heard, the first line of action is to dialogue with offenders and sternly warn them to change their ways. If this does not work, they come out in large groups and beat the living daylight out of the offenders.
What started as a fight for women against domestic violence has gradually evolved into preventing child marriages, ensuring couples in love get married in spite of community resistance, ensuring the poorest people get their basic rights and generally improving the quality of lives of most women that might have been worse off.
As heart breaking stories of women keep rolling in daily; the gang tries its best to do what it was created to do. Their efforts might seem like dropping a needle in a haystack, but there is hope. The gang has inspired so many women all over India and the world and they have proven to raise awareness against domestic violence.