Gangs of women in rural India fight abuse with bamboo sticks

Slate has a fascinating story about gulabis — gangs of women in rural India who wear pink saris seeking justice for abused wives. 40-year old Sampat Pal Devi started the movement with a few friends in 2006. They began by visiting a few husbands who refused to stop beating their wives, intimidating them into changing their minds by brandishing bamboo sticks. The movement now has more than 200,000 members; Pal travels from village to village on a bicycle to keep the momentum going.
100716_XX_SampatPalDeviTN.jpgPal has a long list of criminal charges against her, including unlawful assembly, rioting, attacking a government employee, and obstructing an officer in the discharge of duty, and she even had to go into hiding. Her feistiness has secured notable victories for the community, however. In 2008, the group ambushed the local electricity office, which was withholding electricity until members received bribes or sexual favors in return for flicking the switch back on. The stick-wielding gulabi stormed the company grounds and proceeded to rough up the staff inside the building. An hour later, the power was back on in the village.

As the article points out, women who suffered from human rights abuses like honor killings, infanticide, and child marriages would take their own lives to escape their fate. But recent progress in the political arena — like an affirmative action bill passed in March that would reserve 33% of parliamentary seats for woman — has made women realize that they can find power in numbers and fight back.
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.
The women's gangs of India [Slate]


  1. For the moment, I’d say that they are on a pretty much wholly defensible patch of high ground.

    The cynic in me wonders, though, how long it will take before some subset of the movement realizes that power can be turned into cash even more easily than it can be turned into justice…

    1. Couldn’t be much worse than when a “legitimate government” inevitably comes to the same realization.

  2. With bamboo sticks?! This seems awesome. I need to start carrying a bamboo stick when I’m out on the town.

  3. Corrections dept…

    “They would visit husbands who refused to stop beating their wives with bamboo sicks …”

    apart from the typo, which I didn’t notice until I copy&pasted the line, you need to reword this. Sounds like it’s the husbands using the s[t]icks.

    Now off to read the article, it looks like a good one.

    1. Forgoing the dive into the waters of pacifism, yes.

      When the opponent you face does not play by the same rules you do, and happily uses your noble belief of non-violence to curb-stomp your ideology into the pavement, you may want to rethink your tactics.

      The men who demand blowjobs, bribes and child wives do not understand that peaceful resolutions exist. They, however, do firmly believe that having a horde of women beat their asses black and blue with sticks absolutely sucks. And that is the resolution they understand.

      One woman with a stick is matched easily by a man. Two dozen is enough to capitulate an entire office of pigs.

      Being noble is wonderful, but when life isn’t fair, evolve or die.

    2. Anon you may be, but I’ll bite – sure:

      For the limited purposes of putting to an end continuing violence, yes: violence justifies violence.

    3. “Does violence justify violence?”
      Yes, if enduring violence simply encourages it.

        1. Which is a good and noble thing since, while war is a very bad thing, there are much worse things: slavery and genocide spring to mind.

        2. I disagree – the initiator of the violence bears the culpability. All these men have to do to avoid a beating is not beat their wives. I know you were hoping someone would take your bait, but I really can’t stand it when onlookers attempt to induce guilt in victims who have finally decided to assert themselves. What is it that pacifists have against victims anyway? Ask anyone who has decked a school bully – standing up for yourself normally means less violence altogether, in the long run.
          Alse, I daresay people in India have some familiarity with the concept of non-violent resistance – and have found it wanting, in this case.

    4. Yes, violence does justify violence, if the violence is committed to protect and defend those of us in society whom for whatever reason cannot defend themselves.

    5. In response to” Violence justifies violence”….These women are not violent, they are defending themselves and standing in solidarity with other women. The abusive men are creating violence. If he women remain passive victims of their abuse, what good does that do? The cycle of abuse must end. The women can defend themselves and intimidate there abusers without becoming like them, once again, their is a difference between self-defense and violence.

    6. no but it does make them realize how much hurt is they are causing first hand. sometimes it is the only solution, if you have ever been abused you would understand

  4. It’s a shame that woman like Sampat Pal Devi and groups like the gulabis are needed in the 21st century, but they obviously are, and it’s somewhat gratifying to know they exist… so, thanks, Lisa!

    I’m afraid my spin on it is as irresponsible as it is severe: stop being wives, stop breeding, and carry a big gun instead of a big stick! ;-)

  5. Lisa: Dad, don’t you see you’re abusing your power like all vigilantes? I mean, if you’re the police, who will police the police?

    Homer: I dunno. Coast Guard?

  6. Is is just me, or do strains of Twisted Sister’s “We’re not gonna take it” come to mind reading this…

  7. I live in a rural area — lots of cowboys — and one of the local towns is known for being rough (coal mine town).

    When a number of girls got fed up with their friends being beaten by their “boyfriends,” two lesbians(?) started a gang of sorts and went around threatening and beating up the abusers.

    AFAIK, no law enforcement crack down on any of the girls. Justice served.

  8. “the group ambushed the local electricity office, which was withholding electricity until members received bribes or sexual favors in return for flicking the switch back on.”

    Enron has been reincarnated in an Indian village.

  9. We need more of this in the western world, IMHO. Sadly though, it’s harder to beat people’s apathy with a bamboo stick, so this will probably never happen.

  10. Why do people stop doing things they know are wrong (assuming sheer good will doesn’t kick in first)? They fear punishment or recoil and these women are providing it. While I’m not a huge fan of organized crime or violence, I love this.

  11. I don’t mean to nit-pick, but the article says that the movement has 20,000 members not 200,000.

  12. I realize that I’m in the minority, but links like this are what make reading BB worthwhile to me, not the tech and sci-fi stuff.

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