Excerpt from Pink Sari Revolution by Amana Fontanella-Khan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Pink Sari Revolution

A Tale of Women and Power in India

By Amana Fontanella-Khan

Pink Sari Revolution
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2013,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: 25 Aug 2014,
    304 pages.

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That was when all order in the station broke down. "You've come here to fight . . . ," the subinspector started saying. But before he could finish, Sampat clasped a large folder she was holding in her hands and brought it crashing down on his head with a smack. She then pushed the folder into Sushila's hands, who was carrying Sampat's bamboo stick and rope, and grabbed the laathi from her. Sampat raised the long stick high above her head, bringing her elbows up around her temples; she assumed a position evocative of an ax-bearing wood feller about to reduce a lone tree stump to firewood.

"Hey, hey, hey!" the policeman said with alarm, as he leapt up from his seat and pushed forward the desk that separated him from Sampat.

Seeing this scene unfold, the raucous crowd that had gathered around the entrance of the police station started cheering and hooting. "The crowd swelled up. Spectators began entering the station. The road was jammed. People said, What's happened? Something like this never happened before. I stayed outside in a safe place in case of a laathi charge. People were watching from terraces and five hundred people on the road were watching," Lakhan recalls.

In the station, too, everyone was shouting. In the disorderly melee, Sampat, her hair flying wildly around her face, was desperately issuing commands to the women, who were either frozen stiff or sluggish with fear. "Tie him up," Sampat shouted to Sushila, who was holding the coil of rope as if it were a slithering python. Jostled by the throng of women who had crowded onto the veranda, Sushila demurred at executing the order; she uncoiled and recoiled the rope nervously and looked around to see if one of the other women might help her tie up the policeman— which was not something she had any experience with. There were no takers. In the meantime, Sampat, agitated and raging against the flustered officer, whacked his forearm, which was stretched out before him to shield himself, with her laathi. Some of the women's colored-glass bangles broke in the commotion.

"Tie him up, tie him up!" Sampat ordered again, her handbag swinging uncontrollably from side to side. Sushila, holding the rope, summoned up her courage and crept around the desk and toward the officer. "What do you think you're doing? Get away!" he barked at her. Sushila, deflated, slunk back into the crowd. There was growing confusion among both the Pink Gang and the police officers, most of whom by now had stepped out of their offices and were deliberating about how to deal with this unruly group of women.

Outside, the crowd was going wild. "The Pink Gang has tied up the subinspector with a rope!" people shouted down the street. "I saw Sampat slap him across the face like this," another said, grossly exaggerating what had actually happened. "He was saying, 'Please, please! Stop!' " spectators recounted to passersby, in awe of what the women had done. "They tied him onto a chair with rope! She beat him several times. There was a cop with a rifle but he stood there silently!" Lakhan remembers hearing amid the animated street-talk that day.

It was then that the provincial arms constabulary arrived, along with the subdistrict magistrate, S. C. Sharma, and the circle officer, T. P. Singh—the junior officer had alerted them over the wireless. They decided on the spot that because of the growing mob, it would be unwise to arrest any of the women. "Even the general public were shouting against the police," they later wrote in a report on the incident, justifying their decision. The police worried that there would be what they called a "worsening of the law-and-order situation," so they let all the women go home, to the surprise of people in Atarra.

A case was registered against Sampat, Sushila Lal, and another Pink Gang member, also called Sushila, each charged with eleven crimes, including rioting, obstructing a public servant in discharge of public functions, and criminal intimidation. Sushila and Sampat spent one night in jail a year later, when the case was finally heard in court, but the other Sushila, Bare Lal's wife, did not have to because the judge accepted her plea that she could not afford to spend a night apart from her eight children.

Excerpted from Pink Sari Revolution: A Tale of Women and Power in India by Amana Fontanella-Khan. Copyright © 2013 by Amana Fontanella-Khan. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company.

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