Now this is a gang that I can support

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The 400,000 member strong Gulabi Gang or Pink Sari Gang — the all-female grassroots group that fights for women’s rights and against corruption in India — was?founded by a woman who was denied the right to go to school as a child. 53-year-old Sampat Pal started the organization, which is named for their official pink sari uniform, to use the mass power of women to force action on violence against women and children — crime that is often ignored by law enforcement and local officials. At one recent protest, where a large group of Gulabi Gang members appeared to support a women who had been abused and abandoned by her in-laws, Pal proudly announced: ? Look at the strength of my ladies — they have come from everywhere.?

Pal knows just how difficult life is for a woman in rural India; branded a troublemaker for questioning why she was treated differently than a boy, she was married off at 12 and had five children by the age of 20. She founded the Gulabi Gang at the age of 43 after seeing a man in her village publicly beating his wife. When he refused to stop, she gathered a few friends, armed them with sticks, and led them as they thrashed the man until he promised not to hit his wife again.

She decided to turn the spontaneous group into a larger movement to educate and protect women. In addition to self-defense, for which they carry bamboo batons called lathis, the women learn about their legal rights and how to collectively pool their finances to give each other small loans to start businesses. In recent years, Pal and the Gulabi Gang have attracted significant international attention, winning multiple awards with cash prizes that have allowed Pal to set-up job training programs for women and a co-ed school in her husband’s home village.

The Gulabi Gang is based in the Banda area of Uttar Pradesh, one of the poorest districts in India. With widespread corruption and a strong tradition of male dominance, women have few options to end domestic and sexual violence which is common in the region. Though the Gulabi Gang has largely operated outside of the political system, members have begun to run and win municipal elections in order to try to make institutional change in local communities to improve the conditions for women and the poor. As Pal explains, “Village society in India is loaded against women. It refuses to educate them, marries them off too early, barters them for money. Village women need to study and become independent to sort it out themselves.” For her part, Pal is determined to continue the fight: “People have tried to assassinate me, arrest me, abuse me and shut me up. But I won’t be quiet until things improve for the women here.”

For an in-depth account of Pal and the Gulabi Gang’s story, check out the book “Pink Sari Revolution: A Tale of Women and Power in India”

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