Powerful in Pink
Review by Kathy Freise
Pink Sari Revolution: A Tale of Women and Power in India
Third-world feminists don’t always achieve celebrity status, but in one rural Indian state, they have. The Gulabi, or “Pink” Gang, which Amana Fontanella-Khan profiles in Pink Sari Revolution, is a group of 20,000 women raising awareness of women’s rights in India and enlisting legal counsel for victims of caste violence, domestic or sexual assault, arranged child marriages and government harassment.
The women have plenty to keep them busy. Fontanella-Khan says that reports of rape and domestic violence in India are increasing, yet conviction rates are dropping. Corruption riddles the police force and political system, leaving women with little defense against widespread injustices that include demeaning medical exams for rape victims.
But, as Pink Sari Revolution makes clear, local-level resistance can be potent. Members of the Gulabi Gang work primarily in impoverished Uttar Pradesh, a rural state so politically corrupt that Fontanella-Khan describes it as “India’s Wild West.” The women navigate the unethical landscape wearing pink saris and wielding pink sticks, which they use for solidarity as much as for protection. They use grassroots techniques to combat scenarios such as people being jailed without charges—sit-ins, storming offices or embarrassing police by spitting on their office walls.
The remarkable Sampat Pal leads the Gulabi Gang, and the book is largely a tribute to her. With no formal schooling, married at age 12, emerges as a riveting, imperfect force. Her story intertwines with a legal case she champions, that of Sheelu. The teenage girl is held and raped by a prominent legislator, then jailed after she’s accused of stealing.
Fontanella-Khan also profiles other Gulabi Gang members who attract attention wherever they congregate. She creates an engrossing and intriguing narrative, although a few translations of interviews are awkward, and some descriptions of political party history and machinations seem unwieldy. Pink Sari Revolution details how one woman and one group originated. It doesn’t try to provide solutions—beyond grassroots action and political participation—for the spirit-crushing realities that led to the Gulabi Gang’s creation.
Nonetheless, Pink Sari Revolution is an approachable, inspiring read about social justice. As one elderly villager notes, “Hope is a very big thing. Sampat gave it to us every time she came to the village.”
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