It all started in 1980 when Sampat Pal, a teenage resident of Banda district of Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh objected to neighbour Ram Milan beating his wife regularly. “He threatened me so I decided to teach him a lesson,” Pal, 49, told Hindustan Times. “I motivated the rural women in the area and we beat up Ram Milan and let him go only after a public apology.”
The news spread like wild fire and pleas for help from women oppressed and abused by their husbands started pouring in. “A meeting of women was held and we decided to form the Gulabi Gang to fight for justice for women,” Pal said.
Within a few days the numbers of the lathi-wielding Gulabi Gang swelled and the group mustered courage to take on the police and administration as well. This includes barging into a police station and tying up the station house officer for refusing to register the case of a rape victim and forcing a sub-divisional magistrate to walk on a road full of pot holes after the district administration failed to repair it.
Since then, the membership of the group – some call it vigilante others see it as a social movement – has grown to 270,000 in the underdeveloped Bundelkhand region in UP and Madhya Pradesh and is recognised by social organisations all over the world.
In 2008, Pal went to France to speak about her experiences and visited Italy the year after to participate in a programme organised by feminist organisations. Around half a dozen books and documentary films have been produced on her life and struggle.
But after 33 years of undisputed supremacy, Pal today faces a revolt in her outfit for supporting the Congress in the coming Lok Sabha elections.
No one in the gang objected when she stood on a Congress ticket from the Manikpur constituency in Chitrakoot district in the 2012 UP assembly polls – which she lost. At a meeting on March 2, Gulabi Gang national convenor Jai Prakash Shivharey, 60, announced Pal’s expulsion from the group she founded.
Social activist Shivharey who motivated Pal to fight for the rights of women and launch the Gulabi Gang, said that according to the constitution of the gang, a member of a political party cannot be chief of the gang. “Sampat (Pal) has to choose between the Congress and Gang,” he said. “Besides, she has failed to submit details of the donations received by the gang.”
Pal, however, told HT on the phone from Delhi, “The allegations against me are baseless and I will reply to the charges after returning to Attara (her hometown in Banda). I have been a fighter and will overcome this tide as well. The conspirators will be exposed.”