By Jaswinder Thethy
“Things won’t change overnight. We have to wake people up,” exclaims Sampat Pal, the founder of the “Gulabi Gang,” a group comprising hundreds of lower caste women in Uttar Pradesh, India that stands up to violence against women.
Domestic abuse is still persistent in India even though there are laws against it. Rape and sexual abuse cases are rarely registered for fear of social stigma. Women often hide behind their veils rather than defend themselves. But the Gulabi Gang empowers women who are suffering from abuse and educates them about their rights.
Sampat and the Gulabi Gang are the focus of a documentary by British director Kim Longinotto called “Pink Saris,” which was recently screened at Singapore Management University by ONE (SINGAPORE) with the support of the British High Commission.
Being a woman, and coming from a British Indian background I was immediately drawn to this project. Plus it gave me an opportunity to wear a pink sari! I could hardly refuse to represent the High Commission on this one.
Longinotto’s documentary follows Sampat as she mediates on behalf of woman that turn to her for help. Sampat is assertive, fearless and extremely outspoken; she has a huge voice and her threats are often delivered in punchy one liners, though unfortunately the wit is at times lost in translation. Sampat herself is a former child bride and victim of abuse. However she took the unusual step of fighting back and risking disgrace by leaving her husband and village.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to her campaign is that Sampat can only do so much herself. She survives on donations and cannot always afford to lodge women who turn to her when they have nowhere else to go. In one case in the movie, Sampat returns a girl to her abusive in-laws. But first, she confronts the family in public. I can’t help but wonder if the young woman will continue suffering and I hoped the situation wasn’t made worse by Sampat’s intervention. In the end, it’s up to the girls to stand tall.
The documentary also reveals that Sampat still has complex personal issues to confront, especially when her motives are questioned. At one point, her longtime boyfriend asks if she is not being driven by ego, an accusation that appears to be at least partly true after Sampat proudly refers to herself as the “Messiah for Women”.
Regardless, there is no question that the Gulabi Gang is making a difference in the lives of women, men and children in Uttar Pradesh.
“If girls spoke up, the world would change,” Sampat says. “Be Brave”
Jaswinder Thethy introducing “Pink Saris” at SMU.
About the Screening of Pink Saris in Singapore
The British High Commission supported ONE (SINGAPORE)’s screening of Pink Saris in collaboration with the Wee Kim Wee Centre to help mark International Women’s Day, the 8th of March, and to highlight the unjust treatment of many rural women.
Kirpal Singh, Associate Professor of English Literature, opened the event, after which, Jaswinder Thethy gave a short speech on the UK’s work in India, which includes investments in education for girls, providing access to finance, skills and low carbon energy, safe births, reducing violence against women, children’s health and nutrition.
Jaswinder Thethy is an Assistant Attaché at The British High Commission.
Find out how to support the Gulabi Gang.