Friday, April 2, 2010

Gulabi Gang - Vigilantes in Pink

Gulabi Gang - Vigilantes in Pink
Fed up with abusive husbands and corrupt officials, India's poorest women are banding together, taking up arms, and fighting back. Even more shocking than the pink saris they wear: Their quest for justice is actually working
In the hot, dusty district of Banda, situated in India's remote, rural north, acts of domestic abuse among the region's poorest are as commonplace as electricity outages and child marriages. And yet three years ago, when Sampat Pal Devi learned that a friend had been beaten by her alcoholic husband and that the local police, chronically indifferent to violence against women, had looked the other way, something inside her snapped.

Incensed, the 47-year-old mother of five gathered dozens of her female neighbors, armed them with sticks, and taught them how to fight back. Together, the self-declared Gulabi Gang, or "pink gang" (for the candy-colored saris that double as their makeshift uniforms), have beaten up accused rapists, profligate officials, and husbands who've abandoned their wives.

Last year, they even intercepted a group of black marketers pilfering from a local food bank. In this rigidly patriarchal region, where members of the lowest class earn as little as 75 cents a day, vigilantism, according to Devi, is the only way to empower women. "With no income and no skills, this is a desperate situation," Devi explains. "Women are completely vulnerable."

That's no longer entirely true, thanks to Devi and her ragtag band of unlikely warriors, who now number in the hundreds. (So popular are these local folk heroes that neighborhood shops can't keep up with the demand for pink saris, which women in surrounding villages have taken to wearing in support of their Banda sisters.) Devi says there are fewer rapes in the area now and more girls attending school. "We don't use violence much anymore," Devi says, beaming. "Now just our name and that we are coming are enough."