Featuring: Sampat Pal and gang
Director : Nishtha Jain
The district is Banda, and the region, Bundelkhand, in UP. And an organization that has steadily been a media magnet for what it has managed to do: in the rural backwaters of North India, where years of heavy-handed, violent patriarchy has stunted the growth of women and killed the girl child, a woman has taken on all comers. ‘Gulabi Gang’, Nishtha Jain’s award-winning documentary gives us an up-close view of Sampat Pal and her gang, which dons pink ‘saris’, and hefts ‘lathis’, and fights against injustice where it is most needed.
The 1.5 hour film is an important document. Because women, usually classified with the ‘other’ backward classes, and ‘dabey-kuchley varg’, are for burning, and raping, and humiliating. Because anyone who takes up cudgels on their behalf is to be acknowledged and praised. And there’s the middle-aged, vocal Pal, one among them, and a natural leader, having it out with surly men-folk of a neighbouring village where a young wife has been charred. The husband claims he wasn’t there. His family says it was an accident which happened while cooking. Her father doesn’t want to take the case further. It is only when we meet the dead woman’s mother, blind and helpless, that we hear the truth.
You watch, in admiration, as Pal and her acolytes (gang-members who, upon signing up, are given ‘gulabi’ saris, and a ‘lathi’-wielding training) shout down a local ‘thanedar’. He starts off belligerent, but when Pal takes the case to his seniors, he becomes a man who may have to listen to a mere woman. And you see the uphill fight Pal has on her hands when one of her ‘gang’ members leaves : the woman, who spent a good many years with the gang, endorses the age-old view of how, if a brother doesn’t like what a sister does (in this instance, fall in love), he is within his rights to put an end to her life. Nothing Pal nor anyone else says can shift her position.
Jain spent five months on and off with Pal, and tracked her as she goes from one village to another. And we see the solid work that has gone into the making of the film. But it did leave me asking a few questions. Why was it called the ‘Gulabi’ gang? In a ‘q and a’ after the film, Jain said that Sampat had talked about other colours being taken already: I would have liked to see that in the film, because it tells me something crucial.
Also, I wanted to know how a village woman, however feisty she continued…