The women's gangs of India.

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
July 19 2010 10:01 AM

Wear a Pink Sari and Carry a Big Stick

The women's gangs of India.

(Continued from Page 1)

Take Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and the first female dalit—the group at the lowest rung of the caste system—to have attained such a high office. As the leader of a dalit party, Mayawati, who is considered prime-minister material, is criticized for focusing only on dalit issues while ignoring the concerns of women more broadly. Mayawati is also conspicuously corrupt—she has appeared at public events with garlands of real money around her neck and has spent millions erecting statues of herself across Lucknow, the state's capital.

When Mayawati first heard of the rise of the pink gang, her first concern was not what she could do to help but whether it might pose a political threat. She tried to quash the group, then finally offered Pal the opportunity to run for local elections under her party's banner. Pal refused this offer, as well as others she received from major national parties. As long as corrupt practices persist among both male and female politicians in India, many vigilantes will feel they have more to gain by staying out of politics than entering the fray.

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The silver lining here is that while Indian democracy is too weak to deliver on the gender equality that is inscribed in its constitution, it is strong enough not to crush movements like the pink gang. This is also thanks to the free media, which has boomed since the '90s and which glorifies the work of the gulabis. There is now a chapter of the pink gang in France. Cécile Romane, the head of the Paris gulabi, says that she has worn her sari in the city's streets but has not yet needed to discipline men with her bamboo stick.

Even in the badlands of Bundelkhand, the gulabis are reaching for the bamboo stick less frequently these days, but for different reasons. "My real strength is not in the stick, it is in numbers," Pal told the Hindustan Times. "And one day, we will be big enough to shake up Delhi, too." She might just be right.

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Amana Fontanella-Khan is a Brussels-based writer. She is the author of the forthcoming book Pink Sari Revolution (W.W Norton, August). Follow her on Twitter @AmanaFK.