Vigilante Aunties: How India’s All-Women Gulabi Gang Are Breaking The Status Quo
Born out of one of India’s poorest regions, the Gulabi Gang emerged as a women-led vigilante movement with the aim of supporting women suffering from domestic abuse. In 2006, Sampat Pal Devi saw a woman being abused by her husband. When she stepped in to try and help the woman, she was also attacked. It was this encounter that motivated her to start the Gulabi Gang which now works across the Bundelkhand district of Uttar Pradesh to protect women through violent and non-violent intervention.
Uttar Pradesh has one of the highest rates of domestic and sexual violence against women in India, and Bundelkhand is one of it’s most impoverished regions. With more than 40% of the population living below the poverty line and trapped in a cycle of hardship, drought and illiteracy, the high Dalit population find themselves neglected and disregarded. Based on its historical and traditional caste system, India is set up as a chauvinistic state. Bundelkhand in particular is riddled with government corruption, specifically in the unfair distribution of resources and widespread lack of education.
It is within this context that the Gulabi Gang were determined to take their protection into their own hands. The 2021 crimes record in India shows that the majority of crimes committed against women were that of kidnappings, rapes, domestic violence and dowry deaths. It’s clear from this that these are not isolated incidents. There are structures in place that allow for the abuse and oppression of women. The Gulabi Gang have dealt with many cases of women being murdered by their husbands, raped in their villages, or killed by families members for choosing their own partners. This only scratches the surface of violence against women in India and shows why there is a need for a radical countering of violence. The Gulabi Gang didn’t just sprout out of nowhere and they aren’t protesting or enacting violence aimlessly – they formed because there is no other choice. In a society where women are only valuable for as long as they are useful to men, and where the police are indifferent to violence against women, the Gulabi Gang formed out of necessity because there is no other form of protection in place for women.
When we say there’s a group of house wives in India that run around in bright pink saris beating up men with a stick, the very thought of it sounds comical. But to do exactly that in a region as deprived and conservative as Bundelkhand where women have absolutely no social standing is truly against all odds. Knowing full well the consequences and danger it could bring to their own lives and their families, this group of women bind together as a collective movement to bring justice where no one else is doing so. With the frequency of female infanticide, girls being married off as children, rape and honour killings, the fact that the group exists at all completely destroys the status quo of rural indian society. For many women, the Gulabi Gang are seen as a legitimate and viable alternative to the police as a form of protection and retribution.
Their signature pink sari is a display of solidarity and uniformity, tying the members together as a collective force. The uniform has become a symbol of authority that is respected throughout the region, with locals knowing who and where they can turn to for support. The vigilante nature of the movement means that the Gulabi Gang are not answerable to the state or local authorities and are free to protest and act as they see fit. This, along with their successful intervention, is what has made the group so trusted as victims know they can rely on the Gulabi Gang to take action and bring justice to women suffering violence.