Leader Sampat Pal Devi and members of the Gulabi Gang with their traditional fighting sticks
Back in the 70s, we feminists thought China could do no wrong. We didn’t know about the human rights abuses—all we knew was that the country, under Mao Tse Tung, was committed to gender equality. Our favorite stories—and now who knows if they were true or propaganda?—were about groups of women who roamed the countryside, dropping in on men reported to be abusers, physical or otherwise. Their purpose was to “re-educate” the man by tying him to a chair and lecturing him until he repented. They’d read socialist theory, berate him, recite statistics, and talk about women’s abilities and accomplishments as well as oppression. This went on around the clock without pause for as long as it took to break him. Sometimes a session lasted days.
My friends and I adopted the expression “Could he be rehabilitated in China?” to refer to any man we were interested in romantically. If I told Joani I’d met a new guy, her first question was “Could he be rehabilitated in China?” It was a given that any American male of our generation required rehabilitation.
These days, we’d have to change the question to “Could he be rehabilitated in India?” It seems that Indian women are borrowing a page of history from their Chinese sisters, forming gangs that go around the countryside visiting errant males. With names like “The Pink Vigilantes,” these groups are much larger—200 to a gang—than the small Chinese groups of five or six. They also differ in that they’ve dropped the rehab aspect of their mission: Forget “re-education”—these ladies go straight for the jugular and beat up their victims. They carry lahtis, the big sticks Indian cops use for crowd control, wielding them on rapists, child molesters, and thieves who steal rice meant for the poor. They break into weddings of 12-year-old girls forced to marry old men, and bring the proceedings to an immediate halt. They once surrounded a police station that failed to arrest a rapist, beat up the officer in charge, then tied up the rest of the cops.
Some people welcome the appearance of the pink-clad women: government is so corrupt and inefficient in some areas of India that they represent the only law enforcement around. Like the Chinese sisters of yesteryear, they’re regarded as heroes.
The next time a girlfriend tells me she’s met a great guy, I’m going to ask her the question: “Could he be rehabilitated in India?”