UP elections: Gulabi Gang founder fights for women’s rights minus the lathi | assembly-elections$uttarpradesh-2017 | Hindustan Times
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UP elections: Gulabi Gang founder fights for women’s rights minus the lathi

The formidable lathi forced into submission many a wife-beater, drunkard husband and errant public servant since a young wife started an aggressive movement for women’s emancipation in Uttar Pradesh’s backward Bundelkhand in the 1990s.

assembly elections Updated: Feb 15, 2017 22:03 IST
Moushumi Das Gupta
Sampat Pal, the founder of Gulabi Gang and the Congress candidate, campaigns for the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls in Manikpur.
Sampat Pal, the founder of Gulabi Gang and the Congress candidate, campaigns for the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls in Manikpur.(Arun Sharma/HT PHOTO)

The formidable lathi forced into submission many a wife-beater, drunkard husband and errant public servant since a young wife started an aggressive movement for women’s emancipation in Uttar Pradesh’s backward Bundelkhand in the 1990s.

It was an anticlimax that the bamboo stick – ubiquitous with the Gulabi Gang – was nowhere to be seen near 51-year-old Sampat Pal, the group’s founder, or with the comrades milling around her in bright pink saris last week.

Pal explained, “Lathi se har samasya ka samadhan nahin hota. Baat karke samjhane se rasta nikalta hain (A stick can’t solve all problems. One has to talk and counsel to find a way).”

That sounded more politician than a hard-line feminist, coming from a woman who is a household name in the region for wielding a lathi to combat atrocities against women, or to fight for social justice and rights in a male-centric society.

Sampat Pal, the founder of Gulabi Gang and a Congress candidate, campaigns for the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls in Manikpur. (Arun Sharma/HT PHOTO)

Pal has morphed from being the leader of a band of all-women gulabi or pink fighters -- some call them vigilante others see them as a social movement -- to a politician.

She is contesting the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections as a Congress candidate for the Manikpur constituency in Chitrakoot district, which votes on February 23. She contested in 2012 too, but lost.

“But this time she has a good chance. And the party has realised that. Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav will campaign for her on February 19,” said Ajay Singh, her campaign manager.

Pal may have retired her trusted companion, the lathi. But that has not stopped her from taking up women’s issues. Banning alcohol, bolstering women’s safety and fighting corruption are her main poll planks.

“I will bring a law to ban alcohol if I am elected,” she said. “I think entering politics is a way forward. If I win I can help empower more women by giving them jobs and help them fight for their rights.”

Pal appears to have mellowed down. Or maybe, electoral compulsions have forced her to be more pragmatic.

“We don’t believe in taking law in our hands. Initially we used lathis but but not anymore … You can’t force a person to give up alcohol by beating him with a lathi,” she tried to reason.

The group, with some 400,000 members, was the inspiration for a 2014 Bollywood movie, titled Gulab Gang, starring Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla.

Pal is not happy with the silver screen rendition of her work. She accuses the moviemakers of sullying her group’s image.

“Unhone galat dikhaya hamare bare mein ki ham danda se har chiz ka haal nikalte hain (Their portrayal that we use the lathi to solve all problems was wrong),” she said.

Pal’s brand of activism is giving a stiff fight to her opponents -- BJP’s RK Patel and BSP’s Chandrabhan Patel, who won the seat in 2012.

“People relate to her… they have seen her fight for women’s rights. It’s not only women, even men will vote for her. Because of her party’s alliance with SP, she is likely to get the votes of Muslims, backwards castes and Brahmins as well,” said Sanju Devi, a former village headwoman of Manikpur’s Giduraha.

Few would forget how Pal and her band tied up a police officer and thrashed him for not registering an FIR against a man who had beaten his wife mercilessly. Or, how blows from sticks forced a voyeur to apologise publicly for misbehaving with a woman.

The lathi is not altogether cast away. A few women accompanying Pal still carried one; concealed. Just in case…