The Baddest Woman in India

in Slate:

SampatSampat Pal is the founder and commander-in-chief of India’s Pink Gang, known as the Gulabi Gang in Hindi. Three years ago, I wrote an article in Slate about the gang, which is best-known for its vigilante tactics. Named after their pink sari uniforms and pink-painted bamboo sticks, this group of around 20,000 members take on everyone from abusive husbands to crooked police, who often refuse to register and investigate rape cases. Since then, I have spent two years writing and researching a book on them called the Pink Sari Revolution, which was released last week. I wanted to write a book on these women because they teach us an important lesson about power which in times of extreme inequality is easy to forget: Even the absolute weakest members of society can manage by extraordinary acts of will, luck and some recklessness to fight back. The person who best teaches that lesson is Sampat Pal, who was married off at the age of 12, bore the first of her five children at 15 and is essentially illiterate. Despite all this, she has not only empowered herself but thousands of women just like her.

…Looking into Sampat’s past offers few clues into the origins of her formidable understanding of the machinations of power and society. Her hometown, Kairi, is a small, windswept farming community in the heart of Bundelkhand. When Sampat was growing up in the 1970s, Kairi—like many parts of Bundelkhand—was a place where injustice against women, the lower castes, and the poor was an accepted part of life. The cries of a woman being beaten by a drunk husband in the middle of the night; a Dalit denied participation in village celebrations for fear that he and his family, considered “untouchable,” would “pollute” the communal thalis, metal dishes, heaped with biryani; girls married off to widowed, older men who would use them like maids: These occurrences were, for the most part, accepted as being “how things were.”

More here.