iconimg Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Akshay Mahajan
August 21, 2009
Prologue: In the blighted region of Bundelkhand in southern Uttar Pradesh, where women bear the brunt of poverty, hope comes dressed in pink. Fed up with abusive husbands and corrupt officials, the women of Bundelkhand — one of the most backward regions of India — are banding together in pink saris and arming themselves against their oppressors. They are called ‘the Gulabi Gang’ (Pink Gang), gulabi being the electric pink of the uniform worn by the group’s 500-odd members, who hail from the arid villages around Bundelkhand’s Banda town. They fight corruption and injustice with pink lathis (sticks) and raise their voices against the system to fight for the rights of women.

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Girl gang: They wear pink saris and go after corrupt officials and boorish men with sticks and axes. The 500-odd vigilante women of southern Uttar Pradesh’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 women have become folk heroes, winning public support for a series of Robin Hood-style operations. In their most daring exploit, they hijacked delivery trucks to reclaim food for the poor that would have otherwise been sold in markets run by corrupt officials.

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Behenji: Sampat Pal rallies the Gulabi Gang. The gang is led, and was created, by 46-year-old Pal. The daughter of a shepherd, Pal was married at 12 to a 20-year-old man she had never met.

The gang is led, and was created by, 46-year-old Sampat Devi Pal. Pal is a wiry woman, wife of an ice cream vendor, mother of five children, and a former government health worker who set up and leads the “Gulabi Gang”. It took her over a decade to muster the foot soldiers for the group she now calls her “army”. “I wanted to lift them out of the black hole they had been pushed into,” Pal says. “Mind you,” she says, “we are a gang for justice.”

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Case solved: Geeta’s body lies in the courtyard of a mud house. As the police sew Geeta into a body bag, Pal suspects foul play. Who killed Geeta, she asks. Geeta’s 4-year-old daughter points to her own father.

Their ultra-feminine uniform and vigilante methodology may be shocking — but their unbelievable retaliation and quest for justice might actually be working.

Akshay Mahajan, 23, is a Bangalore-based photojournalist