In Uttar Pradesh - known as the "badlands" of India - a woman's life is not entirely her own. This is one explanation for how Sheelu, a seventeen-year-old girl, ended up in jail after fleeing her service in the home of a powerful local legislator. In a region plagued by corruption, an incident like this might have gone unnoticed - except that it captured the attention of Sampat Pal, leader of India's infamous Gulabi (Pink) Gang.
Poor and illiterate, married off around the age of twelve, pregnant with her first child at fifteen, and prohibited from attending school, Sampat Pal has risen to become the courageous commander and chief of a women's brigade numbering in the tens of thousands. Uniformed in pink saris and carrying pink batons, they aim to intervene wherever other women are victims of abuse or injustice. Joined in her struggle by Babuji, a sensitive man whose intellectualism complements her innate sense of justice, and by a host of passionate field commanders, Sampat Pal has confronted policemen and gangsters, officiated love marriages, and empowered women to become financially independent.
In a country where women's rights struggle to keep up with rapid modernization, the story of Sampat Pal and her Pink Gang illuminates the thrilling possibilities of female grassroots activism.
Pink Sari Revolution
On August 2, 2006, less than a year after Sampat started the gang, she was sitting on her patio with Babuji and Lakhan when she received a visit from a woman called Sushila, a mother of eight living below the poverty line. Between sobs, Sushila told Sampat that the police had beaten up and taken away her husband, Bare Lal, after a dispute he had had with a neighbor a few days earlier. Sushila's husband was being detained without any charge, and the police hadn't provided his family with any information about the arrest.
Sampat was not surprised by Sushila's storyby then she had handled numerous cases involving illegal detention, which was rampant in many parts of India where domestic law allows the police to arrest individuals on the mere basis of "reasonable suspicion." There are virtually no remedies available to wrongfully imprisoned citizens, and offending officers are rarely disciplined. It is a system in which police can ...
The women of the state are generally penniless, and consequently have little legal recourse. If they are raped or beaten, often the male involved merely pays a bribe to have the case dismissed. Sampat Pal Devi and her group of women look for cases such as these and seek redress, often using unconventional methods. Sheer force of numbers is often enough to intimidate law enforcement into doing the right thing.
(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
Full Review (1153 words).
Throughout Pink Sari Revolution, the stick carried by the Gulabi Gang is referred to as a pink-painted "baton." More accurately it is a lathi stick – a traditional Indian weapon, made of bamboo, with a long history of martial use.
Lathi (pronounced LAH-tee) literally means "bamboo stick" in Hindi. It is widely considered to be one of the oldest weapons in the world, and its use can be traced to aboriginal times throughout what is now eastern India and Bangladesh. Made from the male bamboo, it is usually six to eight feet long and is sometimes bound at intervals with iron rings or tipped with a metal blunt. It is an inexpensive, readily available weapon that is extremely effective at close range, operated by swinging like a bat ...
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