Blogging for HONS 201: Feminism, New Media, and Health at Hunter College.
After recently viewing the documentary Defending Our Lives in class, I got to thinking about the connections between partner abuse and the legal system in the United States. I thought about the women in the film who were incarcerated for fighting back against abusive partners, and their subsequent incarceration for their self-defense. And then I started thinking about the Gulabi Gang, an organization of women in Uttar Pradesh, India who came together to fight the corruption in the legal system that ignored and marginalized women, children, lower castes, and the poor – and have achieved many positive results for their work.
The philosophy of the Gulabi Gang (“The Pink Gang”) can be summed up by a paraphrasing of the famous proverb: Speak Loudly, Wear Pink, and Carry a Big Stick. Known for their bright pink uniform and their lathis – long bamboo sticks – the Gulabi Gang is made up of primarily women who seek to fight the injustices inflicted upon them, such as domestic violence, rigid caste divisions, lack of education, and child marriage. The Gang’s founder and leader, Sampat Pal, says of the prominent display of the lathis as compared to the famed nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi, “I salute Gandhiji, he was the father of our nation…but my style is different.”
Sampat Pal’s style involves teaching women to wield the lathis in self-defense, should their adversaries ever react violently to their presence (only on a few occasions have they been used on policemen). She also advocates and crusades for education for girls, stopping the practice of giving dowries, registering sex offenders, publicly shaming molesters and abusive husbands, and encouraging women to be financially independent.
She created the group in 2006 to fight back against social injustice, leaving her job as a government worker. Even though child marriage is outlawed in India, she was married at twelve years old, and a mother by fifteen. A charismatic speaker and passionate leader, she is heralded by her followers as Sampat Pal Devi – “goddess.” Her iron resolve and dedication to justice – as well as the rare physical altercation with policemen – have earned her admiration, a name recognition across the region, and tens of thousands of supporters (as well as begrudging respect from government officials). She and the Gulabi Gang have successfully intervened in many social situations, from helping stop the abuse of daughters to confronting corrupt government officials who have accepted bribes.
While the Gang also recognizes that a focus just on women wouldn’t solve the problems they face; they do call on men to examine and challenge male authority, as well as take a stand against all human rights abuses. To date, the Gulabi Gang has over 20,000 members, and continues to crusade for the rights of the marginalized.