Women in Pink: The Gulabi Gang


CC McKay Savage

A member of the Gulabi Gang smiling during a meeting.

Jessica Layton, Staff Writer

The women of India have been oppressed for centuries.  Often objectified and perceived as lesser beings, many have been forced to endure abusive and fear-filled lives.  The socially acceptable behavior of men in the Indian culture includes public sexual, as well as domestic, abuse of women with the overall mentality of “boys will be boys” excusing vile acts. Women are frequently subject to sexual harassment by complete strangers in the street, and for fear of being raped, many women choose not to leave the house at night. Finally, one remarkable woman, Sampat Devi Pal, has taken a stand against the injustice, sparking a revolution and reinventing India’s behavioral standards forever.

The Gulabi Gang, or the “pink” gang, was formed by Devi Pal in 2006 when she was in her mid-20s and was frustrated by the accepted abusive behavior of males toward the opposite gender.  The group works toward sustaining female empowerment and ending cruel Indian traditions, such as child marriages. According to the organization’s website, GulabiGang.in, leader Devi Pal says, “We are not a gang in the usual sense of the term, we are a gang for justice.” Members of the group, dressed in pink saris, accost abusive males, verbally at first. If no change or remorse becomes apparent in the abuser’s behavior, he is then physically attacked by the women who are armed with bamboo sticks, called lathi.

From a young age, Devi Pal, who grew up in a village in northern India, had an insistent desire to expand her mind.  It is rare for females in India to receive education, and her parents resisted sending her to school.  Eventually, she was allowed to attend but was soon required to drop out at age 12 when she was forced into marriage.  Practically illiterate from lack of proper schooling, she had her first child at age 13 and then went on to have four more.  From her past, Devi Pal has drawn inspiration and has made it part of the group’s goals to bring an end to primitive traditions that limit a woman’s life opportunities and often bring about a premature end to full independence.

Devi Pal was first inspired to take action when she witnessed firsthand a husband physically abusing his wife outside their home. When she attempted to intervene, the man beat Devi Pal as well.  Infuriated by the injustice, she gathered a group of four female friends and returned the next day brandishing bamboo sticks to thrash the abusive  man, giving him a taste of his own medicine.  According to an article on DailyMail.co.uk, Devi Pal insists that the group is not anti-male. “We are not against men.  We are for the rights of everybody and against people who don’t believe in that.”

The group also works to extinguish corruption among law enforcement and government officials.  Rape is common in India, but it is rarely acknowledged as a crime. Pal Devi is quoted again in a DailyMail.co.uk article as saying, “The police and officials are corrupt and anti-poor.  So sometimes we have to take the law into our own hands.  At other times, we shame the wrongdoers.”

In one case, the Pink women became involved with a female who was raped.  When the victim summoned the courage to register a complaint with the police, the officer refused to take the report, blatantly denying that a crime had been committed against the woman.  The group took action, dragging the officer from his station to the street and beating him with their lathi.  The officer quickly relented, and the woman’s case was recognized.

Additionally, India’s feudalistic government is riddled with corruption. Fully aware of the immense crime, the gang refuses any help or handouts from the government.  Jai Prakish Shivhair is one of the group’s few, but existent, male members. According to Soutik Bisaw of BBC News, Prakish Shivhair says, “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.”

From its early stages of only four determined women, the gang has grown to include well over 20,000 members. Devi Pal has become a local hero, an icon of strength in the face of adversity, and has consistently stepped in to help women in awful predicaments that are sickeningly common, when all others turn away.  Through taking her fate into her own hands, she has inspired those around her, not only to refuse to settle for abuse, but, in turn, to take direct action to change their lifestyle for the better. Adorned in their bright pink saris, resistant to the abusive customs of their heritage, these valiant women of India have begun a cultural revolution, sparking a change that will usher in a new age of gender equality and liberation from the patriarchal mentality.