A group of women, distinguished by their pink saris, assemble in an open courtyard to learn Lahti Khela — an ancient martial art which teaches its combatants to use bamboo sticks. A powerful voice from the centre gives the women precise instructions on how to mercilessly strike an attacker. The martial arts session ends with an impromptu march through the dirt roads of India’s badlands.
Villagers’ heads turn as the women chant:
“We must fight for the rights of women! We must replace incompetent government!”
Sampat Pal Devi is the powerful voice who organizes the marches and martial arts sessions. She was married off at the age of thirteen and had her first child at fifteen. Sampat taught herself how to sew and established complete independence from her husband.
She is rewriting the Indian woman’s narrative from that of a frail and incapable voice to a forceful and determined one.
In a country where caste, religion, gender, and economic position are all means to discriminate, women are viewed as second-class citizens. Their roles are strictly defined by cultural norms which have remained stagnant, even as India sees itself grow into a powerhouse.
Sampat is the founder of Gulabi Gang — a women’s activist group which is known for taking on the role of a vigilante to fight for the marginalized. Gulabi in Hindi translates to ‘pink’ and group members wear pink saris to identify themselves.
“Lots of suffering women come to us, so I gathered all the women. We tell them that if you fight the battle by yourself, nothing can be done, so find ten other women that will stand with you.” — Sampat Pal Devi
Led by Devi, the group does not hesitate to take the law and its matters into their own hands, and on numerous occasions have lashed statesmen with bamboo sticks. They regularly confront and attack corrupt policeman, politicians, and abusive husbands in their offices and homes. It’s a fight that has been unified by Sampat and her 20,000 Gulabi Gang members.
Amana Fontenella-Khan, a Pakistaini-Irish author, documented the rise of the Gulabi Gang in her book, Pink Sari Revolution. In an interview with Asia Society, she explains the importance in changing the way Indian women are portrayed.
“I felt it was important to tell a story about women in India that focused less on victimhood and more on victory and success. The Gulabi Gang is inspiring and represents hope, which is something people are always in need of.”— Amana Fontenella-Khan
Although the support the Pink Sari Gang provides is vital, it is their reprogramming of the Indian consciousness that makes the group unique. They’ve re-instilled a sense of unity and altered the way villagers percieve women. Sampat Pal has rewritten the existing narrative of Indian women by forcing her own vision on India.
Stories become outdated and it falls on you to rewrite certain segments. Don’t allow your history to negatively impact your progress. If you need to rewrite it, try to take a more unconventional approach.
Image Credit: independent.co.uk