Uppity women in India!

A pink posse in a poor part of the country! Why not? Especially when the need for street-fighters for social justice is so pressing…

They wear pink saris and go after corrupt officials and boorish men with sticks and axes.

The several hundred vigilante women of India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state’s Banda area proudly call themselves the “gulabi gang” (pink gang), striking fear in the hearts of wrongdoers and earning the grudging respect of officials.

The pink women of Banda shun political parties and NGOs because, in the words of their feisty leader, Sampat Pal Devi, “they are always looking for kickbacks when they offer to fund us”.

Two years after they gave themselves a name and an attire, the women in pink have thrashed men who have abandoned or beaten their wives and unearthed corruption in the distribution of grain to the poor.

They have also stormed a police station and attacked a policeman after they took in an untouchable man and refused to register a case.

“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. At other times, we prefer to shame the wrongdoers,” says Sampat Pal Devi, between teaching a “gang” member on how to use a lathi (traditional Indian stick) in self defence.

But in case you think the obvious, wait:

The pink sorority is not exactly a group of male-bashing feminists – they claim they have returned 11 girls who were thrown out of their homes to their spouses because “women need men to live with”.

That is also why men like Jai Prakash Shivhari join the “gulabi” gang and talk with remarkable passion about child marriages, dowry deaths, depleting water resources, farm subsidies and how funds are being stolen in government projects.

“We don’t want donations or handouts. We don’t want appeasement or affirmative action. Give us work, pay us proper wages and restore our dignity,” he says.

The women in the “gulabi gang” echo the same sentiment – but Sampat Devi has a separate agenda for women.

“Village society in India is loaded against women. It refuses to educate them, marries them off too early, barters them for money. Village women need to study and become independent to sort it out themselves,” she says.

Remember Chavecito’s nutty saying about how to eliminate poverty? These women are proving him right–by showing that the best way to do it is for the poorest to take power in hand, one way or another, and make the changes needed–whether it’s shaming corrupt officials, giving a brutal policeman a taste of his own medicine, or changing the very way the system works for the gender that wears the saris.

More power to the uppity women of India.

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