Roaming the badlands in pink saris with big sticks, they beat the shit out of everyone from abusive husbands to corrupt officials.
Uttar Pradesh is one of India’s most impoverished regions, and one of the most unsafe places for women in the world. The area alone had over 3,000 rape cases reported in 2013, a number resulting from a nauseating 55 percent increase in violent sexual crime. We’re all familiar with the rabid media coverage of the region’s high-profile gang rape incidents; sometimes, women are even ordered to be gang-raped by local courts as punishment for crimes their family members commit.
Though the astronomical rate of crimes against women is actually lower than many of the surrounding regions, most women’s position on the bottom rung of the caste system means that many rape cases go unreported or are directly ignored by the police. These crimes are often considered unimportant by local officials, and as a result, women in Uttar Pradesh and other areas in India have no legal backing to keep these assaults from happening.
Well, if the cold, strong limb of the law isn’t gonna beat these abusers senseless and give them a swift kick to the nuts to end all chances of reproduction, don’t you wish that someone would?
Enter, Sampat Devi Pal, the real-life sex crime superhero you’ve been craving. Things have gotten so bad in the badlands that in 2006, Devi formed the Gulabi Gang, a militant squad of stick-wielding women determined to smack men in their region into shape.
This gang has been a long time coming for Devi, who discovered the raw power of beating up a man with bamboo sticks when she was a teenager. As the official website of the gang states:
One day when Sampat Pal Devi, a simple woman living in a village in Northern India, saw a man mercilessly beating his wife, she pleaded with him to stop, but he abused her as well. The next day she returned with a bamboo stick and five other women and gave the rogue a sound thrashing.
Neighbors heard of the incident and started to come to her aid when settling domestic disputes with a hard to stick to the face. Twenty years later, her flock had grown large enough for her to give the group a pink uniform, combat training, and the official title of “Gulabi Gang.”
You may be asking, “Wait so you’re telling me that hoards of women are just roaming the countryside beating people with sticks?” Well, dear reader, Devi herself has an answer for you:
Yes, we fight rapists with lathis [sticks]. If we find the culprit, we thrash him black and blue so he dare not attempt to dare do wrong to any girl or woman again.
For those of you who might wonder what a mob of women publicly beating a rapist looks like, picture this scene, but with massive bamboo sticks instead of flip flops and brooms:
It’s not just Devi and a little band of followers who share this desire. Since the group’s formation, the gang has grown to encompass around 400,000 members in 11 different districts around Uttar Pradesh. Depending on who you are in this region, you’re either trying to pretend you’re not afraid of Gulabi (you should be) or you’re wondering how to sign up and get your retribution on. For women in the area, membership is fair game for anyone, and about the gang’s members, the group’s deputy commander Suman Singh says:
When a woman seeks the membership of Gulabi Gang, it is because she has suffered injustice, has been oppressed and does not see any recourse.
While their volatile methods of taking crime into their own hands is the most powerful image of the gang, that’s not the whole story. Not only does the gang beat rapists, wife beaters, and corrupt politicians, but it aspires to bring empowerment to all women in India on a socioeconomic scale. As stated on the official Gulabi Gang site, their goals are far-reaching, socially aware and go beyond simple stick thrashing.
Members have done nearly everything. They have raised awareness in the region about the importance of educating female children. The Gang fights for the interests of the poor on a local level, and besides bringing matters to the authorities, they have taken steps towards educating locals on their rights. Female-run businesses are even starting to be formed by the gang, from smaller businesses making crafts to a full on wedding service that includes catering, henna application, and tailoring dresses. The Gulabi Gang doesn’t just fight with sticks, but with knowledge and self-determination.
It’s a small solution to a national problem, but doesn’t it feel good to know the world still has real-life vigilante heroes?