Sampat Pal Devi, the leader of India's "Nobody comes to our help in these parts. The officials and the police are corrupt and anti-poor," Sampat Pal Devi told the BBC as she taught a village woman how to defend herself using a long stick. "So sometimes we have to take the law into our hands."
Married at 9, living with her husband at 12, and a mother at 13, Devi taught herself how to read and write after her parents were reluctant to send her to school. Now in her early 50s, Devi is a former government health worker and mother of five who is the force behind the Gulabi Gang, an all-woman vigilante group dedicated to protecting and fighting on the behalf of poor women in Uttar Pradesh, India.
"Gulabi" means "pink," and the 20,000 members who patrol the villages in Northern India wear bright pink saris as they make their rounds. Also known as the Pink Gang, they've "stormed police stations when officers have refused to register complaints of abuse against women, attacked men who have abused their wives, stopped child marriages and encourages girls to go to school," The Guardian reported this week. The gang was formed two years ago, after Devi saw a man beating his wife and begged him to stop. He refused, and she returned the next day with a small group of women, who retaliated with an eye for an eye: by beating him with sticks, the same way he had been beating his wife.
The Pink Gang does not always resort to violence. They use their numbers to bring attention to women's rights, to shame families into treating their daughters and daughters-in-law better, and to persuade local law enforcement to investigate cases involving the poor.
"Mind you," Devi told the BBC, "we are not a gang in the usual sense of the term. We are a gang for justice."
Like this story? Follow us on Twitter for more.
Also on Shine:
- Shine essay contest: Who's the most inspiring woman in your life?
- Celebrating the strength of women in Afghanistan in "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana"
- Does union-busting affect women more than men?
- The remarkable, history-making, courageous women of Egypt
- Daniel Craig in drag to support International Women's Day
- Check out Shine's Royal Wedding website!