India: where class, caste and sexism collide…

Gulabi Gang member Aarti Devi India faces many problems as a nation but internal differences reinforce the position of some of the most oppressed. In face of the discrimination faced by some members of society women have banded together to form the Gulabi Gang. All members are part of the Dalit class (the dispossessed, formerly known as the untouchables) who are routinely discriminated against. Unofficially they have adopted a candy-pink sari uniform. Their aim? To challenge Dalit discrimination including the Police’s refusal to log rape of Dalit women by other caste men, ensure education for Dalit girls and in other ways ensure women’s freedom for example from domestic and sexual violence.

Whilst men are welcome to join th Gulabi Gang, mostly it is women and they have armed themselves with lathi (traditionally a male weapon) to enforce the point. Now whilst I don’t condone physical violence, I do see the symbolic and practical power of the lathi and in particular the lathi in the hands of women. What strikes me as saddening is that to ensure their rights Dalit women have had to become vigilantes.

However their successes are clear:

  • Preventing Dalit women being beaten whilst getting water by higher caste people who believe Dalit’s would make the water impure.
  • Making the Police log rape complaints against higher caste men.
  • Preventing rape and domestic abuse of women and providing education for women so they know their rights.
  • Ensuring girls get sent to school.
  • Educating men about why domestic violence is wrong
  • Enforcing government run shops do not deprive the poor of free food which they should distribute to the poor by prevent unscrupulous and corrupt owners from selling such stolen supplies on the black market.
  • Now there is something worth celebrating…Gulabi Gang