Sampat Pal Devi a social crusader and founder of Gulabi Gang, an organisation working against injustice to women and for women empowerment. A child bride as well as a teenage mother herself, she shunned the shackles of oppression and went on to be one of the most powerful woman of Bundelkhand. With a number of awards in her kitty including Godfrey Phillips Bravery Award, she is a hope for thousands and inspiration for many others. You can often find her leading a group of women in Pink saris armed with lathis in Bundelkhand area of Uttar Pradesh fighting against injustice towards women.
What was your main motive to form this organisation?
The goal behind this organisation was to ignite a sense of strength among women and make them realize their rights. At times, educated girls are also unaware of their rights and even if they know; they lack strength to stand up for themselves. If one woman cannot stand for herself, all such women can unite and fight for each other’s rights. It is my aim that every women should know their fundamental rights. This was the basic philosophy behind formation of this group.
What cases have you dealt with and what is the current scenario?
I have worked against cases of dowry, child marriage, honour killings as well as victims of rape, harassment among others. Women are often discriminated in their in-law’s house. Several restrictions are imposed on women in relation to eating meals, going out, clothes and so on. A girl is often ridiculed if she is wearing jeans. However, it is totally fine for a boy to wear anything. How can her clothes define her character? The girl is often secluded when her husband passes away. However, when the wife passes away, husbands marry again to lead a usual life. The women are often supressed in this patriarchal society, which needs to change.
How did this revolutionary movement started?
I started this movement at the age of 26. Since then, many women have joined this initiative. Today, we have more than four lakh women members. If one woman is in a problem, she just needs to call us and thousands of women gather to her rescue. Our gang even scares the powerful people who try to exploit women. This is the power of unity. This is how we fight injustice.
We have also heard that you use lathis to help woman.
Yes, we do use lathis but it is only when there is no alternative left. First, we try to solve the issue by discussions. Nevertheless, that does not work most of the times. We are not against men. Men and women, both are like wheels of a cart. Both should move together to make the cart travel appropriately. However, when men do not respect women, do not treat them well, we have to stand for them. We are fighting for women’s rights, for our rights. People get scared of our lathis. In this due course of struggle, we are continuously making enemies as well. However, I am not going to step back. I will continue my fight for women until my last breathe. As they say “Raah nahi foolo ki kaante bas usme milte hai, lekar dard zamaane ka himmat wale chalte hai.”
Why you choose pink as the colour of your organisation?
We adopted the Pink sari in 2006. For reinforcing our identity, we chose sari as dress of the organisation. Most of other colours symbolised one political party or the other prevalent in our area. We never wanted to be associated with any party. Therefore, we zeroed on pink, as it was not associated with any political party and symbolised feminity.
How are you working to make women self-reliant?
I have tried to stress on educating the girl child. Advocating importance of educating the girls have been a task. It is extremely important for a girl to be educated and independent. Education is the most significant entity in today’s time. They can become self-reliant if they are educated. Educated girls do not need to be dependent on males to feed them. They can earn for themselves.
Initially, I taught them to make disposable plates and bowls. In those times, we were not even organised in a group. Gulabi Gang was not there. I tried to bring them together to make them financially independent. Then we went on to sewing. I taught sewing to girls. As a result, many girls have become financially independent. They do not need any support now. They are capable of earning for themselves. It is overwhelming to see the success of these girls.
I also run a school where children of Gulabi Gang members, orphans, poor children study with rich people’s children. The basic idea of this school was to create a comprehensive environment for development of child as well as create opportunity for underprivileged. The fees from the rich class is utilised to sponsor the poor children as well as orphans. We have few teachers in the school. Currently, the school is on a rented space, so there is always shortage of funds and we do not have enough funds to own the place and provide good infrastructure for the children. I had even utilised the prize money won from Bigg Boss for the school. I have received several awards and I contribute the prize money towards various causes.
What is your message for women?
We should unite to get women reservation bill passed in the parliament. The reservation bill provides 33% reservation. We should encourage more women participation in politics and support the female contenders especially in backward areas where women are often suppressed so that they are able to use their powers to the fullest. When we talk about women equality, there should equal distribution of power and resources between men and women. Women should join professional workforce in large number and get equal opportunities. It is the responsibility of women to educate and support their girl child so that she can reach the pinnacle of their career. We should make every effort to make girls educated and self-reliant. It is imperative for girls today to break the shackles of oppression and stand up for themselves.