Inception of the Gulabi Gang
Sampat Pal Devi is an Indian social activist from Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, North India is the founder of the Gulabi Gang, an Uttar Pradesh-based social organization, works for women welfare and empowerment. Sampat Pal Devi was married to a resident of the Banda district of UP at the young age of twelve. Four years later, at age sixteen, she took her first stance against domestic violence. A nearby neighbor was regularly abusing his wife, so Pal Devi encouraged residential women to embarrass the man until he ultimately made a public apology for his actions. She was influenced by social activist Jai Prakash Shivharey to start the Gulabi Gang in support of women’s rights. Pal inspired other women in her village and other villages to join the effort. The women look out for other women in neighboring towns, similar to a western neighborhood watch program. Together Pal and her women have carried out several raids, beaten up several men and public officials, and attained one-hundred percent success.
Why The Gang?
For women in India, violent crime is common and low-caste women are especially vulnerable. Ninety per cent of the country’s rape victims are Dalit women, formerly known as untouchables, the lowest of India’s lowest caste. The situation is particularly dire in Uttar Pradesh, a state with the most cases of sexual violence against women in the country. And the police aren’t much help. An Indian high court judge recently described the Uttar Pradesh police force as the largest criminal organization in the country. But the Gulabi Gang is offering a way out. It is making change simply by providing positive and powerful female role models in a country where few exist.
Lasting social change?
But it’s difficult to know how sustainable that change is. And that’s the problem. Pal represents both the strengths and weaknesses of the gang. She’s an effective and charismatic leader who inspires tremendous loyalty, but there’s also no one else like her. There’s also the question of whether Pal’s brand of vigilante justice can really lay the foundation for lasting social change. Abhilasha Kumari, the director of Apne Aap, a woman’s rights NGO in Delhi, doesn’t think it can.
Pal agrees. She says that for women in India, the first battle begins at home. A woman must fight the oppression and abuse she faces from her family before she can become an effective member of the gang. After all, real change is not going to come from the end of a stick.