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India's "Gang for Social Justice"

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Hello everyone.

This article, forwarded to me by my colleague, Anne-christine d'Adesky, gained quite a bit of attention in our last e-Magazine: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7068875.stm. Here's an excerpt:

"A women's vigilante group has sprung up in this landscape of poverty, discrimination and chauvinism.

Sampat Pal Devi is a wiry woman, wife of an ice cream vendor, mother of five children, and a former government health worker who set up and leads the "pink gang".

'Mind you,' she says, 'we are not a gang in the usual sense of the term. We are a gang for justice.' "

Source: BBC News

I am wondering what your reactions to this article are? How does it make you feel... Excited? Frightened? Empowered? Inspired? Disgusted?

What do you think of the BBC's coverage of the events?

I'm not quite sure how I feel, so I'd love to hear from you!

On one hand, I'm thrilled to know these women are uniting in the name of action and empowerment. On the other hand, I think it is sad that only way they feel they'll be heard is through violence.

Thoughts anyone??

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What a thought-provoking article and post. I feel really torn about this issue as well.

I feel like those of us not living in or near India aren't getting the full story from this coverage. I just tried to find more articles or exposés written about these women, and I haven't had any luck other than the BBC piece you linked to above. The BBC article definitely seems to be congratulating the 'pink gang' for their efforts and mentions that they are "earning the grudging respect of officials," which makes it difficult not to sympathize with their chosen method of activism and justice-seeking. It makes me wonder why these women seem to be being portrayed more positively than the kind of guerilla activism that has been so demonized throughout countries in Latin America.

What's difficult, besides the fact that this is just one source and one POV, is that I don't feel knowledgable enough about current police and legal practices in the state, which makes me wary of judging the kind of 'violence' the article suggests the women are using. Is their vigilance more violent than India's state-sanctioned solutions? And, if it is (or isn't), is that kind of comparison even helpful or relevant?

I don't know the answer to either of these questions...any thoughts?

What I can say is that, controversy or not, their intentions seem admirable and courageous. I am inspired by this example of women banding together in the face of adversity for social change and justice, whether or not I feel like their methods are ones I would choose for myself or support within my own community.

What I want is more information. I think this article and the conversations surrounding it is a great example of why PulseWire has such enormous potential. Because, in the end, what I really want to hear are the pink-women's stories, as they would choose to tell them.

What do all of you think? What would 'citizen journalism' add to this issue? Are there any past or contemporary vigilante groups whose ends were 'worth' their means?

Julie L's picture

Some are clearly perceiving

Some are clearly perceiving them as not too radical, whether this is due to the image they themselves have created or one promoted by like-minded media coverage. This can be seen in lines like, "The pink sorority is not exactly a group of male-bashing feminists - they claim they have returned 11 girls who were thrown out of their homes to their spouses because 'women need men to live with'."

Gene's picture

Congratulations for these Brave Women

When it comes to violating the rights of children something has to be done. I am pleased that this is a GROUP of women. Not only is a group more powerful but it also supplies needed support. Through the consultation with each other, they can decide on the morality what they are doing.

Morality is a tough question here. If I had a daughter in danger who knows what I would do. I say, let the women decide.

Bro. Gene

I enjoyed reading this article.

I agree with Gene's sentiment. If it were my children or my sisters...

The "gulabi gang" does inspires me and guides my eyes and heart back to India, a place I have never been, where I learned about non-violent passive resistance.

I'm torn too.

Goldie Davich, PulseWire Online Intern

For 3 years I have been running a campaign against female genocide in India -- The 50 Million Missing (http://www.50millionmissing.in)

But the problem for me initially was that all I learnt about women and violence, I learnt in the U.S.

And what I have now realized about violence on women in India is that there is something fundamentally different in how gender and violence are perceived in India. And so the response of victims, of society and even of NGOs is very different from what I would expect.

Think about it -- in the U.S. or in Europe would women activists fight for a man who beats up his wife and extorts money from her family -- to take her back?

I have found examples of this over and over again. Women form a gang or community and fight back -- as for eg. rape in the NE. But what is strange is that they don't do it if for eg. if a woman is raped by a member of her own family.

In dowry cases, even when there is attempted murder, communities very rarely will resist or demand justice be done. Most women are under pressure to return to the homes where there is violence. When they leave -- when they cannot take it any more -- you rarely hear anyone speak out because it is a matter of shame.

And the most surprising thing I discovered -- when women whose lives were in danger, or there had been an attempted murder, by their husbands and inlaws, approached us for help, it seemed like they were complaining but they did not want legal action. And the minute we started legal action -- the women would return or attempt to return to their husbands. And I don't mean poor and illiterate women, also professional women. There was a dowry related case we had in Australia where the husband had gone as a dependent and would beat up this woman and throw her out of her house ! There was no love lost -- it was an arranged marriage. He was a stranger. But she did not want legal action against him. And I kept asking what do these women want? Why do they approach an NGO complaining?

And I finally realized -- it is just to use the NGO as a muscle power to equalize the power relation in the house. How practical is that? Are you going to post someone outside their door 24 hours? They realize that and ultimately decide to just live with the violence and the danger to their lives. And NGOs are often working within the framework of this very logic. So the counselor from one NGO told me. "Yes their husbands tried to kill them and threw them out. Then we give them training and a job and now that they have money the husbands are willing to take them back. They women will go back anyway -- so we try to negotiate a safe return." How safe is that? They don't know. But they hope she will be safe!

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

Rita Banerji's picture

just another example!

sorry -- that was so long, but I just had to give this other example to make my point.

An Indian woman in her 60s who has lived all her life in Germany (but visits india every year), told me that I should not be talking about violence on women in India when the U.S. is "the murder capital" of the world.

I told her it is true that the U.S. has a higher female homicide rate than other developed nations but it is still 2000 total (domestic violence, random murders etc.) per year. But in India in the age group 17-35 or so, and just the dowry related murders (by husbands and in-laws) are about 25000 a year (and it is agreed it is hugely under-reported).

The police does not even file many of these cases. And many it just writes off as 'Suicides' or 'accidents.'

This Indian-German woman tells me "But that's not the same thing!"

A "dowry murder" is not the regular type of "murder." Why? The Indian law calls it "dowry death" -- as if it was a clinical condition -- so "if a woman dies of dowry death..."

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

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