The Gulabi Gang: Women and Justice in India

The Gulabi Gang: Women and Justice in India

In a country known for its violence against women, a vigilante group has literally taken to the streets wielding sticks to enforce its own brand of justice.
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The coolest part? This group is made up entirely of women.

“Yes, we fight rapists with lathis (sticks). If we find the culprit, we thrash him black and blue so he dare not attempt to do wrong to any girl or a woman again,” explained Sampat Devi Pal, the founder of India’s notorious Gulabi Gang. Devi first picked up her stick against a neighbor who had beaten his wife. That was thirty years ago, and she has not put it down since.

Along the way, many Indian women have joined her cause. Many more have come to her seeking justice. “People know my name and they’ve come because they’ve heard about my work,” she said. In a nation where a woman is reportedly raped once every fifteen minutes, the popularity of her cause comes as no surprise.

Even the nation’s men have come to respect (and certainly fear) the Gulabi Gang. They make themselves known by their pink saris, which instill a sense of pride in each member. “I get a lot of respect and dignity when I wear the pink sari,” said Maya Davy, a young mother of five who has been a member for almost two years. “Men speak nicely, they listen to me, they’re not authoritarian anymore, so it’s better.”

The Gulabi Gang‘s mission to “protect the powerless from abuse and fight corruption” is a challenging one. They fight violence against women, they prevent child marriages, and they also fight for basic rights for the poor. In addition to all of this, they deliver a sense of power to their own members. Many of them have been victims of violence themselves.

“When a woman seeks the membership of Gulabi Gang, it is because she has suffered injustice, has been oppressed and does not see any other recourse,” said Suman Singh, the group’s deputy commander. “All our women can stand up to the men and if need be seek retribution through lathis.”

The Gulabi Gang has also achieved notoriety and respect on an international level. They have been the subject of a documentary and a book, as well as widespread international media attention.

“The justice system in Bundelkhand is dysfunctional and unreliable,” reported Amana Fontanella Khan, journalist and author of Pink Sari Revolution. “The Gulabi Gang has stepped into the vacuum left by the state and offers an alternative means of attaining justice.”

They truly have – and the state cannot help but take notice. “The Gulabi Gang has created such a force of women’s rights and awakening that it has brought a new desire to fight against women’s exploitation,” acknowledged Arvind Sen, the superintendent of police of the Banda district.

Through it all, Devi stands by her message with a warrior’s strength. “Men who commit these atrocities should be beaten by women. They should be caught and have a tattoo of ‘I am a rapist’ engraved on their forehead,” she says. I cannot help but agree.

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