Monday, December 17, 2007

We're Mad as Hell, and We Ain't Gonna Take It Anymore

Using Webster's newest word "WOOT WOOT WOOT WOOT..." From Pretty in pink, female vigilantes also handy with an axe Amrit Dhillon, New Delhi December 15, 2007 THE day her sister was dragged by the hair around the courtyard by an alcoholic husband was the day Sampat Devi decided that men needed to be given a taste of their own medicine. Her brother-in-law was angry at being reproached for squandering his wages on liquor rather than on food for their children. She rounded up other women in Banda, a remote region of north India, and ran after the malefactor with whatever "weapons" were lying around — walking sticks, iron rods, a child's cricket bat. The women chased him into a sugar cane field and thrashed him. That was two years ago. Now, more than 100 women, dressed in pink nylon saris and known as the "Gulabi Gang" or Pink Gang, are the scourge of violent husbands, inefficient policemen and corrupt officials. "None of the men here pay any attention to us. The only way to get them to listen is to scare them. I'm not scared of any of them. But to make sure we have the upper hand, we always go with sticks and axes to deal with someone," said Ms Devi, 50, speaking from Banda on her mobile phone. Ms Devi decided on the uniform of a pink sari for the vigilantes so that they would be easily recognised. The Pink Gang's activities range from beating up men who abuse their wives for not bearing a son to shaming officials who have sold subsidised grain intended for the poor on the black market for a profit. In Maharashtra, western India, women in some villages have forcibly shut down liquor shops to stop their families being ruined by the man's alcohol addiction, but this is the first time women have taken the law into their own hands. The Pink Gang has even stormed the local police station to confront policemen who refused to file a complaint from a low-caste man against a moneylender simply because of his caste. Women in Indian villages are traditionally in thrall to husbands and social conventions that restrict their freedom. The countryside is still feudal in its attitudes towards women. When they walk on the street, it is usually two paces behind the husband, to show his superior "god-like" status. The worst-treated women are poor and low-caste. Few have the courage to stand up for themselves. But Ms Devi is feisty and forceful. She marches at the front of her female storm-troopers whenever a deviant man needs to be put right. Her husband, who supports her activities, sells ice-cream and earns a small income with which they raise five children. They were married when Ms Devi was 12 years old. "Women are at the bottom of society with no help from anyone. We can't keep waiting forever. That's why I formed the group so that the moment a woman calls me to say she's in trouble, we're on the spot fast," she said. "A woman on her own would be ineffective. Men would just laugh at her. But when we're in a group, men get nervous. "Even the local criminals are scared of us," she said, adding that her husband supports her.

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