PINK SARI’S – BY KIM LONGINOTTO
Kim Longinotto's film "Pink Sari's" features Sampat Pal Devi, founder of a 40,000 member women's movement called the Gulabi Gang, or Pink Gang, made up entirely of women from across the Banda district of Uttar Pradesh, Northern India.
Sampat Pal is a feisty crusader with a big VOICE in a deeply patriarchal culture with rigid caste divisions, female illiteracy, domestic violence, child labour, child marriages and dowry demands. So its no surprise that such a movement would spring up in the Banda district of Uttar Pradesh, one of the poorest and most feudal parts of India. 20% of the population are born into the bottom of the caste ladder, which indicates where they can work, whom they can marry and even where they can bathe. Sampat Pal herself is illiterate and low-caste. She was married off at 12 years old and had her first child at 15 years old. Even then she says she was angered by a world in which people are considered 'untouchable'.
"It makes me angry. How could people hate another human being?" She says.
Pink Gang members don't look like your typical gang members. Sampat Pal a former health worker, spent years working quietly behind the scenes with local women. But it was only when she and her followers adopted their recognisable pink saris as a uniform in 2006, and begun to protest and retaliate to the violence against women, that they were finally taken seriously.
India's founding father, Mahatma Gandi, famously preached non-violence. Sampat Pal says that times have changed. "I salute Gandhiji. He was the father of our nation. But my style is different. I am Sampat Pal. I do what I think is right..."
This is a group of women not afraid to hit back, but thankfully the Pink Gang has only had to resort to violence on a handful of occasions. Sampat says most people now see reason, as their fearless reputation has preceded them. Most often it is Sampat's fearless negotiation skills that win the day.
For example Sampat became outraged to find out that a government office was blocking the employment of poor people from her village, so made a visit to the office and official responsible. Sampat barged in to the office announcing, "I'm here to discuss what needs to be done. I'm Sampat Pal. Why are people dying of hunger? Why aren't the people given work, when there's work to do? Nobody gives them work. You're making fools of everyone." The official fully aware of Sampat's reputation responded quickly by saying: "Look, list the names of all the people in this village, list those who need work. I'll see what can be done." Job done!
Then as Sampat left that office, she learned of a corrupt government official taking bribes, whose office was close by. Sampat and her Gang wasted no time and charged off to face the corrupt official. Entering in to his office Sampat warned, "If you've done the wrong thing you must change your ways." The official quickly responded by saying, "I've changed."
Not letting him off the hook, Sampat continued, "People are aware. If you have taken from anyone, return it. Just do it! You better give it back or it will cost you dearly. People join the Pink Gang if they're being robbed. The more you rake in, the bigger the Pink Gang gets. It's not right. This is not what you should do. Give me a list of the women who have given you money. I will keep track of it. Don't make things worse for yourself."
Tackling corruption is just a small part of what Sampat Pal does. Every day women come to her to plead for help. Sometimes they're victims of domestic violence and Sampat takes up their case with the local police. Others are being exploited. Sampat frequently steps in to sort out quarrels, acting as judge and jury. Sampat is just as determined to stamp out child marriages and dowry payments as she is to eliminate corruption. There is no doubt that Sampat Pal's fearlessness plays a big role in her success, but for the women she helps it is her common sense and compassion that stand out as her most revolutionary qualities.
Sampat Pal: "More women are pouring in. Like an ocean flood, there's a flood in the Pink Gang!
See Kim Longinotto's interview about her film "Pink Sari's" at:
See Robert Amos' documentary:
For more information on the Gulabi Gang go to: