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Gulabi Gang: Indian women vigilantes fighting for women's rights

The Gulabi Gang is an extraordinary women’s movement formed in 2006 by Sampat Pal Devi in the Banda District of Uttar Pradesh in Northern India. The Gulabi Gang was initially intended to punish oppressive husbands, fathers and brothers, and combat domestic violence. Today, the Gulabi Gang has tens of thousands of women members, several male supporters and many successful interventions to their credit. Whether it is ensuring proper public distribution of food-grains to people below the poverty line, or disbursement of pension to elderly widows who have no birth certificate to prove their age, or preventing abuse of women and children, they're bringing about system changes by adopting direct action & confrontation.

Photo of Mansi Grover
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Context and Problem

Banda is at the heart of Bundelkhand, one of the poorest parts of one of India's most populous states.

It is among the poorest 200 districts in India which were first targeted for the federal government's massive jobs-for-work programme. Over 20% of its 1.6 million people living in 600 villages are lower castes or untouchables. Drought has parched its already arid, single-crop lands. To make matters worse, women bear the brunt of poverty and discrimination in Banda's highly caste-ridden, feudalistic and male dominated society. Dowry demands and domestic and sexual violence are common.

Gulabi Gang to the rescue

For years, Sampat Pal Devi worked as a volunteer with local women's NGOs, but started the Pink Gang in 2006 because she was frustrated by their lack of progress. With few resources at her disposal, and little to no funding (Pal charges about $4 for membership to the group, in exchange for the pink sari that members wear proudly), the woman relies on her rusty bicycle and old Nokia cellphone to get around and solve problems. "Nobody comes to our help in these parts. The officials and the police are corrupt and anti-poor. So sometimes we have to take the law in our hands. 

Their vision is to protect the powerless from abuse and fight corruption to ensure basic rights of the poor in rural areas and discourage traditions like child-marriages. They aim to support and train women to enhance their basic skills to become economically secure and develop confidence to protect themselves from abuse through sustainable livelihood options.

Impact 

Quoting from a newspaper article:

Aarti Devi, 25, says: "On my own I have no rights but together, as the Gulabi Gang, we have power. "When I go to fetch water, the upper-caste people beat me, saying I shouldn't be drinking the same water as them. But because we're a gang, they're scared of us and will leave us alone.

"Six months ago, a woman was raped and we went to the police station. The officers initially refused to take the complaint, but together, we were able to force the police to take action. "We dragged the police officer from the station and beat him with our sticks."

The group has attracted the support of an increasing number of men. "My father is a member of the Gulabi Gang," says Aarti. "We are not against men. We are for the rights of everybody and against people who don't believe in that."

Intensely proud of her work, she says: "We have managed to stop women being raped and sent girls to school. Violence and rape against women is very common here, so we're trying to educate them so that they know their rights.

"In cases of domestic violence, we go and talk to the man and explain why it is wrong. If he refuses to listen, we get the woman out of the house, then beat him. If necessary, we do it in public to embarrass him.

"Men used to think the law didn't apply to them but we are forcing a huge change."

Last year, after receiving complaints that a government-run shop was not giving out the food it was supposed to hand out free to the poor, the gang kept watch on the owner.

One night, they saw two truckloads of grain on their way to the market, where the shop owner was planning to sell them and pocket the profits.

The Pink Vigilantes pressured the local administration to seize the grain and so they ensured that it was properly distributed.

Learnings 

This is an outstanding example of oppressed women boldly and collectively responding to abuse. Though it started with one woman refusing to compromise and accept things as they were but over time the strength of this revolutionary movement lies in numbers rather than their sticks. It's remarkable how Sampat Devi has managed to build up massive community support without using any high-tech solutions.
 

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Photo of Meena Kadri

I'm so glad you've posted the Gulabi Gang to this challenge, Mansi. Lots to think about here. ..

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Photo of Mansi Grover

Thanks Meena, for the encouragement. I'll be digging for more relevant examples.

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Photo of Meena Kadri

And here's a friendly tip: update your OpenIDEO profile so folks can dig who they're collaborating with. Think skills, experience, passions & wit! Looking forward to seeing more of you across conversations on this challenge...

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Photo of Mansi Grover

Thank you! Done:)