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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  • First Published:
    Aug 2013, 304 pages
    Aug 2014, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt

When Sampat reached Kodia Dai's home, she told her to "call the others, quick," and Kodia obliged, hobbling across the village and knocking on the doors of all the members with her gnarled, crooked hands. Once they gathered, Sampat narrated Sushila's story. "This happened to Sushila's husband today, but it could be you next. That's why we have to teach them a lesson," she said forcefully. The women nodded. Sampat instructed them to report to duty at the office at eleven o'clock the next day.

"Come wearing your pink saris and bring your sticks," she ordered, and they promised to be there.

"That day around a hundred people gathered at my terrace," Lakhan says, remembering the inundation of people choking the entrance of his house and overflowing onto the main road. In addition to the Pink Gang members from Uraiya Purva and Gokul Purva, dozens of passersby had crowded around the house to see what was going on, plus the media had made an appearance. The journalists, whom Sampat had called, were from Sahara Samay TV and the newspapers Hindustan, Dainik Jagran, and Amar Ujala.

After everyone had gathered, Sampat addressed the press corps. Behind her, on the wall, was a hand-painted slogan that read, "For truth and justice our blood will always flow— The Pink Gang."

"A man has been taken captive by the police with no charge filed against him!" Sampat boomed to the notepad-clutching journalists and then, pointing to an anxious-looking woman, added, "And this is his wife, Sushila."

Sampat stood before Sushila, who wore a variegated sari with gold brocaded sleeve hems, and a gold nose stud, and pointed to a darkened bruise under Sushila's left eye. "How did you get this injury?" Sampat asked in her demonstrative style. The woman explained that she had been hurt in a scuffle with the police. Turning to Sushila and raising her bamboo stick, Sampat said, "Out here, officials don't listen to us, do they? But they will if we go with a laathi."

Carrying rope ("You never know, you might need it," she said), the large stick, and a bulky, black leather handbag over her shoulder, Sampat led approximately five-dozen women onto Bisanda Road, which is part of National Highway 71. Behind her was a phalanx of ten pink sari–wearing women, all of whom demurely covered their heads. Trailing the foremost ranks was a long line of around fifty peasant women, without uniforms, who had spontaneously joined in the protest but were not official gang members. "Down with the police!" Sampat yelled in a scratchy voice, thrusting her fist in the air. The pink-uniformed women raised their hands in response and echoed her chant. "Let's make more Pink Gangs!" the women shouted.

The television journalists filmed the procession as the women made their way noisily down the street. Men watched from the edge of the road; some laughed, others looked puzzled. All, except those trying to push through the crowd with heavy agricultural loads on their pushcarts or bicycles, stopped and stared.

By the time the group arrived at the entrance to the police compound, a large crowd of male passersby had gathered (the majority of the people out on the streets in Atarra were men, as women tended to stay at home). The women stopped at the threshold of the police station and yelled, "Down with Hassan Inspector!"—naming and shaming the station officer who had mistreated Sampat and Sushila the day before. The crowd of women who assembled that day was a motley one. Some, like Kodia Dai, were elderly, with birdlike legs, who leaned shakily on their bamboo stick weapons for support. The Pink Gang members at the front appeared the most focused—their countenances were serious and their chants the loudest. Among the non-uniform-wearing women, at least one protester, dressed in a lime-green sari, carried an infant in her arms; another was heavily pregnant; and one carried her lunch with her in a stainless-steel tiffin box. A number of women looked sheepish and shy, smirking awkwardly under all the attention; others giggled and chatted with one another between the chants.

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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