Originating from the remote highlands of Uttar Pradesh in India, the Gulabi Gang is a grassroots organisation that promotes the importance of women’s education, seeks to combat domestic violence and aims to empower women with economic independence. Established in 2006 by Sampat Pal Davi, a victim of domestic violence herself, the movement has grown from just six women to an estimated following of 200,000. Whilst their success at a local level demonstrates the power of grassroots initiatives, it has been their partnership with filmmakers, writers and photographers that has seen their message reach an international audience.
Challenging the entrenched caste system in India is no mean feat. Whilst the roots of this are often found at the broader socio-cultural level, the means by which they impact upon women as individuals occurs within the family unit. It is in this environment where the violence and intimidation that characterises the cyclic oppression of women within India plays out. In recognition of this, and indeed having lived the reality, the founders of the Gulabi gang focussed upon practical measures to combat abuse. Through self-defence classes for local women, as well as the public, and sometimes violent, shaming of sexual offenders, the Gulabi gang built a reputation as truly representative of the plight of local women.
Aside from their work within the local community, it is how they have been able to communicate their message with an international audience that has proved the source of both their legitimacy and funding. The Gulabi Gang have featured in films, documentaries and magazines around the globe. They inspired a British feature film in 2010, a Bollywood hit in 2011 and an American documentary in 2012. Embracing the power of video, the Gulabi Gang have permitted dozens of filmmakers to tell their story through short film, as seen above. Their leader Sampat Pal Davi, has been the focus of books and biographies and, in 2012, was named one of the ten most influential women in the world by the Guardian Newspaper. The recognition that development is both an art and a business is thus not lost on the Gulabi Gang, nor their partners that support them.
The Gulabi Gang have been granted a level of international attention rarely afforded grassroots organisations in developing contexts. Undeniably, this has resulted from a blend of opportunism and circumstance on behalf of both the global media and the organisation itself. The international film-makers and writers are given the opportunity to tell the story of pink clad vigilante women stalking the streets of India, an opportunity that has proven beneficial to both their careers and salaries. Yet the organisation has benefited from international recognition and a global donor pool that they would otherwise have never accessed. No matter how you look at it, and we'll call it mutual beneficence, the results have been truly remarkable. Thus, whilst it can be hard for organisations to rely upon, or even attempt to source this type of recognition from the media, its capacity to assist a local organisation is incredibly powerful and
The Gulabi Gangs success has thus been the result of both effective community mobilisation at the local level, as well as partnerships with global popular media at the international one. Through identification with women not only within their own community, but also around the world, the Gulabi Gang has been legitimised, allowing them to continue their work into the future. Through art and media, grassroots organisation can connect with wider communities, communicating their message, accessing sponsorship and inspiring others.
About the Author
George is the founder of Grassroots Collective and has worked with local development organisations all over the world, from Cambodia to Patagonia. He is currently riding his motorcycle through South America, visiting local community nonprofits to support their work, share their stories and help foster sustainable and responsible development practice.
The Gulabi Gang - The Power of Popular Media
The capacity for grassroots organisations to collaborate with film-makers, photographers and writers is an incredible opportunity to communicate stories of development and connect audiences from around the world. This short film produced by Orlando von Einsiedel and Franklin Dow is an amazing example of the power that can found when this unique relationship is cultivated.
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