MANIKPUR (UP): The UP election has its assortment of interesting characters -- oddballs, gangsters, defectors – but how many can claim to have been played by Madhuri Dixit on the silver screen? Sampat Pal Devi has had that singular honour by virtue of being the leader of the Gulabi Gang, a vigilante movement of women for women.
When she started the Gulabi Gang (literarlly, Pink Gang) back in 2006, Sampat Pal Devi was a fiery woman who would take no nonsense about women and was not too shy of wielding a lathi in their defence. Over the years, her vigilante movement – women clad in pink sarees and armed with bamboo sticks -- became a rage across UP and inspired a Bollywood movie titled Gulabi Gang with Madhuri Dixit playing Sampat Pal. Books have been written about her and documentaries made and the Gulabi Gang became famous.
Today, Sampat Pal is still a fiery woman but she’s not too keen to talk about Gayatri Prajapati, the Samajwadi Party candidate and minister against whom there’s an FIR for the rape of a woman and sexual harassment of the victim’s minor daughter. For Sampat Pal Devi is a candidate for the Manikpur seat in the Assembly, and her party, the Congress, has an alliance with Gayatri’s Samajwadi Party.
Shy about Gayatri Prajapati
Sampat Pal’s hectic campaign ended two days ago and she had time for an interview. But bring up Gayatri with her and she demands proof. ''Saboot kahan hain ki Prajapatiji ne balaatkaar kiya? I don't believe in gossip or speculation. Maybe she (the victim) was a pawn for some netas,” she says.
This is a classic politician’s dodge and her fancy footwork takes her close to blaming the victim and thereby alienating the very constituency that gave her her 15 minutes of fame. ''Women here are uneducated and they fall into traps easily,” she says angrily. “I have seen many cases -- about 75 per cent cases -- in which women sleep with men and then call it rape. In love affairs, there is consensual sex and I don't consider that as rape.''
About Gayatri Prajapati, the Gulabi Gang leader says she knows nothing – “I don’t even have the time to watch TV” -- although the victim and the story is on everybody’s lips in Chitrakoot, Banda and Manikpur.
Candidate Sampat Pal is a far cry from the Gang leader who worked up such a racket in a rape case involving then BSP MLA Purshottam Naresh Dwivedi that he was arrested in 2011. Her fuchsia-clad gang members beat up men and government officials in public.
How the Gulabis got going
Sampat got the Gulabi Gang going in 2006 in Banda district of Bundelkhand, one of the 200 poorest districts in the country where sexual violence is common and women have been known to be bartered.
Fame has taken Sampat Pal places, including earning her a spot on Big Boss and two shots at an election. The last time, as a red hot leader of the Gulabi Gang, she pulled in 20,000 votes. Her Gulabi Gang members put in some serious effort then. In each village, she deployed 30 of them, armed with staves, to keep watch on people distributing money or liquor.
This is her third tilt, again on a Congress ticket. Sampat Pal says she has now learnt the ropes of fighting an election. ''Mujhe maloom hi nahi tha ke election kaise ladte hain. Bahut sare log haste bhi they (many people used to laugh). Lekin ab sabh kuch seekh gayi hoon (but I have learnt now),''she says.