Vote pink for progress

Vote pink for progress

A highly unusual hopeful in the local elections in Uttar Pradesh is the head of Pink Vigilantes, or Gulabi Gang.

Driving through a country highway for the better part of four hours, west of the holy city of Allahabad, brings you to Bundelkhand.

It’s an arid region with forests, hills and ravines — one of India’s poorest and least-developed areas, where only the toughest survive.

As we arrive in Barghar, a small town in the Manikpur constituency, we notice a large crowd of women gathered by the side of the road. All of them are dressed in pink.

They have surrounded a wiry woman in her 50s who is beaming and talking into a mobile phone. This is Sampat Pal, the candidate fielded from these parts by the country’s ruling Congress Party and head of the quaintly named Gulabi Gang, or Pink Vigilantes.


But there is nothing quaint about Pal. This formidable woman has built her reputation as the head of a group of women who over the past few years have targeted corrupt policemen, wife beaters and men who abuse or assault women. They often quite literally take the law into their own hands as they beat the wrongdoers with wooden clubs.

So why has Pal made the transition to electoral politics and seemingly joined hands with those she has targeted in the past?

“We realise we are not strong enough to carry out our plans of emancipating women and getting rid of poverty,” says her close aide, Suman Singh Chauhan. “We don’t have money or power. So we need to get one of our own into politics. If we get one person elected, we’ll become powerful.” Pal agrees.

“We have tremendous support on the ground because of our reputation. Women make up half of the population and yet have so little political power,” she says. “That’s why I need to get elected and set things right.”

The irony that someone who often took the law into her own hands could now become a lawmaker is something she quickly brushes aside. But despite the obvious admiration from the women around her, there are some who privately question her motives and her credentials. Locals talk about how it is the media who have helped build up her image.

There are others who are not entirely convinced. We meet Maya Devi, a young woman who attended Pal’s political rally.

“We were brought in this morning from our village by members of the Pink Vigilantes and told to attend her rally and show our support,” Devi says. “I’m not sure she’s going to help us at all. Whenever I’ve asked for anything, she says, ‘First get me elected, then I’ll help you.’ ”

But Pal dismisses such fears.

“I’ll continue working for the poor women of this area, as I’ve always done,” she says. “Our society has always exploited women. We need to change that.” As the sun comes down, people begin to scurry home. “This is a dangerous area after dusk,” says one local journalist. “There are armed gangs and criminals who come in from the jungles. No one steps out.”

Little surprise then that the leader of the Pink Vigilantes is such a draw in an area that’s often described as the badlands of India.