x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Capturing the blush of a new movement

Pink Saris follows Sampat a foul-mouthed, self-styled enforcer for the pink gang.

A scene from Pink Saris.
A scene from Pink Saris.

Pink Saris Director: Kim Longinotto

Beware of Sampat Pal Devi. She's a foul-mouthed, self-styled enforcer for the Gulabi Gang (Pink Gang), a group of women who fight against abuses in Uttar Pradesh State. She's a belligerent character who loses more fights than she wins.

There are plenty of things worth fighting over - forced child marriages, the burning of widows, and the routine beating of women by parents and in-laws.

The misleading title suggests that the documentary by the veteran Kim Longinotto is about a movement, but there's not much of a gang - just one individual who usually finds herself singlehandedly confronting men in authority in households and villages. Most of the time, she's alone in her pink sari.

As the camera races alongside Sampat, Longinotto shows us that India on the local level is also anything but modern in its attitudes toward women. The filmmaker interviews girls, often married at 12, who tell Sampat about fleeing the homes of violent husbands and in-laws. Men (and some women) defend the age-old practices brazenly. Sampat calls them names and threatens to call the police, giving a new twist to the old question, "When did you stop beating your wife?"

The feisty activist is not quite the Bandit Queen but a raging rebel by local standards. Once a child-bride and a victim of abuse herself, Sampat today has no fear, yet persuading other women to follow her example is, at best, a work in progress that reveals the challenges that anyone fighting for women's rights in rural India will face.