Atiq Khan

Led by an illiterate woman, it has launched a campaign against corrupt officials

LUCKNOW: Corrupt Government officials in Banda district are running for cover in the face of a relentless onslaught by the all-women `Gulabi gang' which had taken upon it the onus to free the society of corruption. And, to draw the attention of the district authorities towards the incomplete development works, particularly in the remote and inaccessible areas of the district.

The `Gulabi gang' members staged a dharna and demonstration at the Banda district collectorate on Monday in protest against a criminal case registered against the husband of one of the gang members (Sushila).

Banda district is synonymous with dacoit menace. The dreaded dacoit, Dadua, who carries a reward of Rs 2 lakh and has been eluding the police since the last 20 years, is a household name in the district, which borders Madhya Pradesh.

Though the `gang' members preferred to use their sandals and `chappals' for bringing the corrupt employees to task, the outfit, has nonetheless fired the imagination of the people of the region, mainly on account of the unconventional methods used by its members. The gang is led an illiterate woman, Sampat Devi Pal, who once upon a time was a tea vendor in Atarra town of Banda district. In fact, before she took up cudgels against the corrupt Government servants and formed the outfit in January 2006, Sampat Pal served as the secretary of a NGO, Adivasi Mahila Uthhan Samiti ( Tribal Women Development Society ), based in Bichanda, a remote village in the district.

Strict dress code

The 'gang' owes its name to the strict dress code imposed by Pal. All members have to be dressed in pink sarees and blouses and functioned as self-styled vigilantes in a region where power and pelf literally flowed from the barrel of the gun. But the `Gulabi gang' was a non-political organization, bereft of any ideology or political leanings, though the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party have tried to woo Pal.

Says the Banda Superintendent of Police, V.S. Singh, "the suffix gang added to gulabi should not be confused with the dacoit gangs. The term gang has acquired a halo in this backward region where the anti-hero is the real hero. Moreover, people feel elated at the mention of gang. At the meeting of Kurmis held recently, speakers said that Dadua should be born in every Kurmi household."

The `Gulabi gang' shot into limelight in April when it seized three tractors of wheat being pilfered from the public distribution system and thrashed the guilty persons. Later, action was taken against the `kotedar' ( wholesaler).

Gradually, the 'gang' gained popular support and Sampat Pal followed it up with raising issues related to development works in the villages and atrocities on women. Not only were district Government offices picketed, the 'gang' members felt no qualm in getting the work done by the use of force.

`Losing direction'

Interestingly, the local police favoured their style of functioning but not before the `gang' stared down at the face of the men in khaki. The outfit of late has seemingly lost direction. "Like all movements which had no ideology or strategy and eventually lost direction, the gulabi gang too was moving in that direction", Mr Singh told The Hindu rom Banda.

Matters came to a head last week when the `gang' members stormed the Atarra police station demanding the release of Bare Lal, husband of a gang member, Sushila. He was detained following a dispute over the construction of water channel in Atarra. As the Banda SP said: "the police warned the gang members that democratic methods of protest would be allowed but if they took the law in their hands a criminal case would be filed. The case has been filed against the women but no arrests have been made".

However, Sampat Pal was undeterred. Her `gang' has around 35 members and a fresh recruitment drive has been launched with Rs 200 as the registration fee for enlisting in the 'gang'.