Conflict & Justice

Female vigilantes take matters into their own hands in India


The Gulabi Gang (Pink Gang), a group of women in rural India who strive for social justice, don pink saris and fight for women's rights, against corruption, and for the poor. Leader Sampat Devi began the vigilante group in 2006, and her message is spreading in the face of India's rape culture problem.



The women of the Gulabi Gang (or Pink Gang) wear rose-colored saris and carry big, menacing sticks. They're your average kick-ass, female crime fighters, but you won't find them in a comic book. No, the Pink Gang, founded in 2006, takes to the streets of India, dealing out their own version of justice to rapists and corrupt politicians – and the sentiment is catching on. 

After the death of a 23-year-old victim of gang rape in December, the women of India (and most of the world) have been raging against a machine that allows rapists to walk free and rape culture to perpetuate across their country. Of the thousands of rapes reported in India each year, most go uninvestigated and even when police get involved, women often report feeling even more victimized and abused at the hands of the state. 

It's time for this to stop, they say, and after a furor of weeks of protests, marches and demonstrations, women have taken to dolling out their own forms of justice, when the government won't. 

A politician accused of rape this week was captured on video being assaulted by a group of women who slapped and kicked him and stripped his clothing off. The accused rapist, Bikram Singh Brahma, is a member of the ruling Congress party in the Assam region and allegedly entered a house and raped a woman in the middle of the night, according to the BBC

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National TV showed the footage and reported that Brahma was detained by local police after being accosted by the women and that he did admit to raping the woman, a mother of two. 

The hundreds-strong Pink Gang of Uttar Pradesh (read this awesome Vice article for more) uses a similar strategy to what these village women did, and often.

Members will arrive at the doorsteps of homes were rape or domestic violence has been reported and threaten the men with their axes and sticks, called laathis. They have also been known to fight against state corruption, and the BBC reports the women once stormed a police station and attacked a policeman for arresting a lower caste (untouchable) man without cause. 

"There are so many struggles that women here have to go through, it never seems to stop," leader Sampat Devi Pal said to the Daily Beast last year. "We don't like using violence, but sometimes that's the only way people listen."

Outside metropolitan New Delhi, India's "rape capital," where last month's gang rape took place and the majority of rape cases in India happen, village women have problems all their own. Poverty, lack of education and a dowry system reinforces a culture in which women aren't just the bottom of the barrel, they're regularly abused. 

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"Nobody comes to our help in these parts. The officials and the police are corrupt and anti-poor. So sometimes we have to take the law in our hands. At other times, we prefer to shame the wrongdoers," said Pal to the BBC. "Mind you, we are not a gang in the usual sense of the term. We are a gang for justice."

Pal said on Saturday, responding for the first time to the December gang rape case, "The rapists should not be hanged as it would not serve any purpose, instead they should be chemically castrated. The line, 'I am a rapist', should also be permanently etched on their foreheads," according to the Times of India. 

Even in the cities, though, the idea that violence should be met with violence is swiftly spreading. 

Not all women are interested in carrying sticks and axes and beating men like the Pink Gang, but the idea of using self-defense techniques and firearms for protection is gaining popularity. 

According to AFP, interest in self-defense classes has skyrocketed since the Dec. 16 rape in New Delhi, and women are looking to practice basic moves like punching and kicking oncoming attackers. Shop owners are also reporting a spike in firearm and pepper spray purchases. 

"I think women have always known that they have to look after themselves, but after this incident a lot of people of my age have really started taking this up," said Smriti Iyer, a 23-year-old student.