. By T.V. Antony Raj
Sampat Pal Devi and her Gulabi Gang members (Source: facebook.com/pages/Sampat-Pal-Devi)
These women dressed in pink and with laathi (bamboo stick) in their hands are fearless!
Their leader Sampat Pal Devi is a mother of five children and a former government health worker. She has a long list of criminal charges against her: unlawful assembly, rioting, attacking government employees, obstructing officers in the discharge of duty, beating a policeman for abusing her, and so on. Once she even went underground to hide from the law. However, her actions have secured notable victories for the community.
Sampat Pal Devi (Source: facebook.com/pages/Sampat-Pal-Devi
Sampat Pal Devi (born 1960) is a tough woman with a commanding personality. She hails from the Bundelkhand area in the state of Uttar Pradesh – one of the poorest region in India and notorious for its rebels-turned-armed bandits. Sampat is a vigilante and activist fighting for the rights of women in the villages.
She was given in marriage to an ice-cream vendor at the tender age of 12. She bore her first child, a girl, at 15.
In 2006, responding to widespread domestic abuse and other violence against women, Sampat Pal Devi formed the Gulabi Gang (Hindi गुलाबी gulabī, “pink”), a group of Indian women vigilantes. Most Gulabi members dress in pink and carry laathis in their hand.
Despite being born into a traditional family and married off early, Sampat evolved into a charismatic leader who acts as judge and jury for girls and women who are being abused by outlawed patriarchal traditions and the caste system.
Sampat and her gang are constantly on the move fighting causes for the betterment of the community. They crusade against child marriages, dowry, and female illiteracy.
To demand their rights, the rebellious women gang submits petitions and verbally attacks corrupt officials, sneering policemen and complaisant bureaucrats. They visit abusive husbands and beat them up with laathis and warn them to stop abusing their wives in the future.
They usually travel by cart and tractor. At times, they undertake long journeys by bus and train, to fight for justice for women and dalits and other untouchable people.
In 2008, when her village was deprived of electricity because the officials of the department expected to extract bribes and sexual favours from the women, she and her stick-wielding Gulabi Gang stormed the premises of the electricity department, locked the concerned officials in a room until they cried for mercy. An hour after they left the premises, the power was on in their village.
In 2008, the group was reported to have 20,000 members as well as a chapter in Paris, France. Now, the Gulabi Gang has taken root in Banda, Mahoba, Chitrakot, Fatehpur, Farrukhabad, Kanpur, Allahabad, Etawah and Bijnore and has about 300,000 women members.
The Gulabi gang is the subject of the 2010 movie Pink Saris by Kim Longinotto as is the 2012 documentary Gulabi Gang by Nishtha Jain.
Initially, it was reported that the Bollywood film, Gulaab Gang, starring Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla as leads, is based on Sampat Pal’s life, but the director denied this, saying that he recognizes the work done by Sampat, but his movie is not based on her life.
Gulabi Gang’s esrtwhile leader Sampat Pal (Source: indiatoday.intoday.in)
Now, the all-women Gulabi Gang is heading for a split as there is a tussle in leadership. On Sunday, March 2, 2014, six years after its inception, the group’s founder commander Sampat Pal Devi was dethroned by the Maharashtra based national convener of Gulabi gang Jayprakash Shivhare at a meeting in Banda following allegations of financial irregularities – “taking money for resolving the problems of poor and suffering women,” and “involvement in self promotion” at the cost of the organization’s mission.
The national convener of Gulabi Gang, Jayprakash Shivhare said:
“There is huge resentment in the organization against Pal. She had been playing in the hands of the Congress party… She had stopped holding meetings of the group and used to take decisions autocratically. She contested Assembly elections on
Congress ticket without taking any suggestion from other members of the group… Later, she decided to visit Rae Bareli along with other members and campaign in support of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and against Aam Aadmi Party.”
“She also went to TV reality show Bigg Boss without consulting the working committee of the group. She had gradually become extremely selfish and minting money at the cost of the organization… Removing her from all posts was the only option left with us. Since she has been defying decisions of the group, it was decided that she would no longer be its primary member.”
Suman Singh Chauhan, commander of Mahoba unit has been appointed as interim commander of the group and a seven-member committee has been constituted to run the organization as of now. A meeting of the group has been convened on March 23 to elect a full-time commander.
However, Sampat Pal Devi, asserted her authority saying she was still the leader of the Gulabi Gang.