WARRIOR IN A PINK SARI-THE INSIDE STORY OF THE GULABI GANG AS TOLD TO ANNE BERTHOD

As a reviewer, I have gone through the book “WARRIOR IN A PINK SARI-The inside story of the Gulabi Gang as told to Anne Berthod” written by Anne Berthod. In fact, it is adapted from the French Novel- Moi Sampat Pal: Chef De Gang Sari Rose written by Anne Berthod, 2008.    

In the world of feminism, we deny to call ourselves to be feminists. We are afraid to be labeled as man haters and home breakers. But excuse me, take a second off and browse through the meaning of feminism in any dictionary. It says, ‘feminism is the belief and aim that women should have the same rights, power and opportunities as men.’ Hence the whole myth of feminists being man haters and home breakers arise once women start questioning their position in society.

Once a professor at Gauhati University asked a guy student,”Are you a feminist?”

The guy instantly denied. Then the professor asked him if he wanted his sister to have the same freedom and rights he enjoyed. Thankfully the guy said,”Yes mam!”

Subsequently the professor said smilingly, “Congratulations, you are a feminist!”

We have a misconception about feminism. But it’s not the problem. The problem arises when we don’t put that little effort to clear our misconception and hence create a whole new world of hurdles for the already troubled and abused feminists.

Well there is no one definite definition of feminism as it is a heterogeneous concept. But its common goal is to stand for women rights, equality, liberation and emancipation. Feminists are opposed to the malaises of gender inequality and patriarchy. Feminists can be both men and women and they uphold the dignity of both the sexes.

In India, we do not see any long run feminist movement as such, may be because feminism is still considered to be something wrong or a taboo in Indian society. But since the times of Raja Rammohan Roy, who is considered to be the Father of Social Reforms in India, we have seen women issues cropping up every now and then. The question of women dignity and security is being considered to be a priority in the political manifestos.

Well Sampat Pal is a personality I have been always curious to know about. She made pink a bold colour to watch out. And after reading this book called Warrior in a Pink Sari, I am fervent to share her journey with you.

Donning pink saris and holding sticks in their hands, the Gulabi Gang is a threat to every policeman who refuses to file a report on violence against a dalit, every husband who beats up his wife, and every goon who grabs land that does not belong to him. Sampat Pal is the founder and has become the leader of the most feared group of women vigilantes in the country -the Gulabi Gang. Her rebellious instinct, fervor for justice and her desire to free women from their everyday oppression led her to organize the women in and around her village in Uttar Pradesh into a gang.
The journey of Sampat Pal is inspiring for the issues she raises unite the commoners in India and she also upholds that despite linguistic, cultural and economic differences, women have the same problems in every continent.
 
Sampat Pal was born and brought up in Uttar Pradesh. They are Gadarias, keepers of livestock. Their family occupation is to raise the animals and to cultivate the land. She had a joint family and education didn’t touch them except for her uncle who was educated and it was him who let little Sampat go to school seeing her thirst for knowledge. But she received only two years of education as they moved places. She considered it to be the greatest curse to her life. She understood the power of education that can bring changes.

Once the kids in the top primary class at school were asked a question- “If your mother’s funeral was on the day of your final exam, what you would do?”
 
The little Sampat replied- “It would not stop me taking my exam. If I stayed at home it would not bring her back to life. And if I failed my exams I would have wasted a year. Also my family would wait for me to come home so I could go to the funeral.”

In villages, educating a girl or not is not even considered to be an issue of discussion. Kitchens are considered to be the women zones. It’s not because women are not capable of sounding sensible but for the age old patriarchal society which prevents women to know the world and change their lives. But the fact is patriarchy dominates not just Indian villages but every nook and corner of the world. Why the powerful Taliban tried to kill little Malala?
 
In the book, Sampat Pal vividly laid down the agonies she underwent when married off in the age of twelve. Marriage is a fascination for kids for its glitterati. But it doesn’t mean the adult parents indulge themselves in marrying their daughters in childhood. In child marriages, both are the victims. But in a marriage like that of Sampat Pal, where little girls are married to young or old adults, the outcome is more deteriorating. Why talking about the body is considered to be outlawed?

Feminism questions the feminine and masculine qualities constructed by the society. Why girls are not allowed to climb trees? Why cooking is an eligibility of marriage? Do men marry to get wives or slaves? Why the society is okay with a housewife and not with a stay-at-home husband?
 
Sampat Pal says that women need to earn and get independent. For this, they have to be organized and only this can bring about their empowerment.

She initially lived at Kairi with her family. Then they moved to Hanuman Dhara,Chitrakoot. She was married off at Rauli. She became a trouble-maker for her mother-in-law because she dared to speak out the truth loud. She questioned the ill motives of her husband’s Brahmin friend advancing her and she brought into light how the women of the community were exploiting their own stores of rice and lentils and stealing their husbands’ crops to a local shopkeeper. He gave them a very little price in lieu. Consequently Sampat Pal was thrown out of house by her mother-in-law. She resided with her husband and children at the rustic woodshed they inherited from the property split.

Sampat Pal tried her best to give justice to a lower caste person being slapped by a Brahmin. She had food with a lower caste Pradhan. Her life was threatened. She left Rauli and moved to Badausa. She started sewing classes and taught the girls to sew blouses and skirts. She had put up a stall outside her place selling tea and betel. She bought her husband a bicycle and made him sell vegetables because they left their fields during the property partition. She believed that sharing of responsibilities is necessary for the two married adults both in public and private spheres.

It was at Rauli, when one Gopalji working for the Samaj Sewa Sansthan invited Sampat Pal to attend a meeting on social issues at Chitrakoot. It was at this meeting that she came to know that she had the duty to fight for the rights, that the exploitation of women by men was something to struggle against. But it was also in this meeting that she faced humiliation from her husband. She didn’t inform her husband about the meeting. But later when he came to know about it he came to the hall shouting her name and waving his stick.  But she was fearless. She confronted him and told him how important it was for her to know the world around.

Why women lie to men? Do men give them the space to put their views?
 
Sampat pal worked extensively with the lower castes, whether it’s about a land encroachment or about their right to dignity. She portrayed the plight of widows thrown out of their homes. She questions the validity of using abuses linked to women. She said being illiterate was her greatest complex and misery. But yet she sets such an example which is gigantic to teach people like us sitting in the cities what life really is.

In 2003, she formed her first official organization- Organization for the Promotion of Tribal Women in Rural Industry. In 2006, she formed the Gulabi Gang. Some of the issues taken up by these organizations are-
i)To make the poor people aware of the various grants and aids of the government.

ii)Awareness regarding hygiene, environment and water conservation by building tanks.

iii)To make the women know that they have the right to inherit a share of the legacy left by their parents-in-law.

iv)To make women aware that they too have the right to obtain a divorce.

v) Counseling of young girls before marriage.

vi)To let women know of the family planning centers in order to have a small family they can support and avoid unwanted pregnancies.

vii)Awareness about the exploitation, independence and emancipation of women.

viii)To necessitate parents-children communication.

ix)To glorify the necessity of education for one and all.

x) To help women form small self-help groups by sharing ideas as they don’t have funds except for the little membership fees.

xi)  Educate women in villages about banking facilities.


Sampat Pal upholds that we shouldn’t wait for the government to help us and try to improve things for ourselves. She also said in her book that the legal age of consent in India is 18 but nobody respects the law. Hence, she has taken it as her responsibility to intervene at once if she hears of little girls getting married. She said that it was easier to reform the world than one’s own family!
Sampat Pal didn’t only make pink a bold colour but also set some bold examples in the society. Although Gulabi Gang members are all women, yet there is a man who helped out Pal to carry out her tasks.  Her right-hand man is Jay Prakash also known as Babuji.
Her house at Badausa was small and it was quite disturbing for her husband and her children to concentrate on their work as there was a constant come and go. People from near and distant villages came to get advices on various issues of exploitation by husbands, in-laws, police and upper castes. Hence, she decided to move out and stay with Babuji at Attara a little far from Badausa. They lived and worked there. To her, trust should be the basis of a marriage. Her husband and her children were okay with it. The society will never anyway keep shut the gossips to fly.
Sampat Pal is like a bird, she is born to fly. She never gave excuses about what didn’t work but tried her best to do those little things that brought about a revolution in the form of Gulabi Gang.
Many criticize her methods to be violent. But she claims that women in her gang keep sticks and ropes with them for self-defense and she considered force to be the last resort. They carry out sit-ins infront of police stations until their demands are fulfilled. She sternly worked against patriarchy, corruption and caste system. To her, Brahmins and Dalits will become brothers only on the day when Brahmins agree to marry Dalits.
Well I wanted to review this book as part of my internal assessment because it’s only when we start speaking and sharing such problems in the society; we can bring about a change. As Mahatma Gandhi always said we have to be the change we want to see in the world.
And after reading the book, there are certain questions that arise in my mind which I want to share with you all.
Why Indian women are considered to be the epitome of sacrifice?? People don’t mind abusing and exploiting her, then how come she becomes the devil once she speaks.

It’s different to give alms to a beggar or a sweeper, but will we be instantly at their service if we see him/her injured lying on the streets?

Our education system teaches us about communalism, why not feminism? What’s the use of studying feminism only by the students of Social Science? Can’t it be a subject in the high school?
In the West, youngsters enroll in military. In India, can’t the youngsters be taught of joining NGOs?

At the end, all I want to say that the real feminist movement in India will begin on the day when all Indians irrespective of caste, color, religion, creed, sex etc., are educated. But patriarchy is still a hindrance on the path of education!



About the Reviewer: Dixita Deka is working as a Guest Faculty in the Department of Political Science, B.Borooah College, Guwahati. She likes reading all kind of books and regularly contributes her creative writings on social relevance to the Horizon, The Assam Tribune. Her blog can be read at http://www.theblessedjinxes.blogspot.com and very recently she has been enrolled at TISS, Guwahati Campus for her further studies. [Read More]
 

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