Before I learned about the Gulabi Gang, when I heard about “pink ladies,” I thought of the film, Grease, and satin bomber jackets.
Now, I associate the phrase with another group of pink ladies and their Pink Sari Revolution, founded by Sampat Pal Devi, in the Banda District of Northern India.
In India, especially in the more rural areas, there is literally no protection for battered, raped or even murdered women and girls. Many women (including Sampat) are married off by the age of 12. The police force is so corrupt, that in one case (VICE News HBO), when confronted by parents seeking justice for their daughter who was openly murdered by her new in-laws, the police threatened to incarcerate the girl’s parents if they continued to inquire about the death of their daughter, rather than investigate the crime. Rapists live next door to their victims in Banda. Domestic violence is culturally normalized. The Gulabi Gang, in opposition to these social injustices, aims to: end police corruption, educate girls, stop child marriages, teach women self-defense, encourage women to be financially independent, and more.
Like a hard core street gang, the Gulabi women stick together to fight their battles, which sometimes includes attacking abusers with their bamboo sticks. Alone, a victim of abuse is vulnerable, but in numbers, these women are no longer victims; they are a powerful hot pink force. With no protection or assistance from the government, the Gulabi gang must protect itself.
The oppression and abuse of women world-wide is overwhelming for me to fathom; essentially, it’s unimaginable to me. Without an education, money, self-worth, cultural validation or enforced protection, Indian women are like delicate rabbits surrounded and hunted by packs of wolves.
Learning about the Gulabi gang, and their Godfather, or Godmother I should say, Sampat, has not only brought me newfound hope, but also has added a dimension to my understanding of global oppression.
The pink sari women, without guns, without the law by their side, without any cultural reassurance, find the strength, unity and collaborative invention to come together. It’s an underestimated survival instinct. All dressed in blindingly bright pink, these women, as one, look like an army, the same way a school of fish looks like a large shark, keeping many predators at bay.
Sampat explains her methodologies though a childhood memory:
There was a mango tree in my village. I saw boys climbing the tree and I thought, Why can’t I climb it? One friend, a girl, supported me while I climbed it. That’s how I began. Once we were many girls at a jamun tree. I said to them, Come, let’s climb. They said, ‘No, we can’t do it.’ They helped me up. The branches of the tree were very fragile, so I fell. When I came back, we hid from the elders as I was hurt. (Fontanella-Khan, The Baddest Woman in India, Slate Magazine)
Sampat’s memory could be interpreted as a failure, after all, she never did get a yummy mango and she hurt herself falling down. However, the memory is in truth the story of a victory, the tale of self-validation translating into communal validation which then developed into collaborative action. Most movements do fail, a lot. They fail, and then they fail, and then they fail again and again, until inevitably, a change occurs, such as the changes that ensure basic civilized rights, a woman’s right to vote, race equality, child labor laws, the right to own property, the right to go to school.
Sampat is a leader, but she’s also like an awesome therapist for the battered, distressed, abandoned, raped or betrayed. Sampat is a leader; she's also like an awesome therapist for the battered, abandoned, raped or betrayed. Click To TweetShe reminds them of their worth. She reminds me that it’s okay to stand out in an obnoxiously bright pink outfit in a world of enemies and naysayers, to step out of line and challenge the oppressive norm with symbolism, intellect and even occasionally with a strong bamboo stick.
Explore the Gulabi Gang and its mission HERE.
Additional source and suggested further reading & viewing: VICE News.
I’m so pleased to announce that three of my poems, “Slots,” “Scraping” and “Make a Decision” have been published in Barking Sycamores Literary Magazine Issue 13. Barking Sycamores is dedicated to neurodivergent literature and its craft. I’m so honored to be a part of this project. Barking Sycamores Issue 13
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