Every few years, I see an image of the Gulabi Gang circulating the internet. Dressed in pink saris and armed with sticks, the caption tells us that they are a gang of women in India who beat up domestic abusers and rapists.
This public image of the gang is central to the debate on the existence of the Gulabi Gang in the play and yet Sampat Pal (Syreeta Kuma), Sheelu (Ulrika Krishnamurti) and the other Indian women, in and out of the gang, are narratives usually unheard of and when they are, as said by Babuji (Munir Khairdin), they’re reduced to women in pink saris, beating up men with sticks.
But violence is central to Pink Sari Revolution. Based on the book by Amana Fontella-Khan, adapted for the stage by Purva Naresh and directed by Suba Das, the play follows the case of Sheelu, a Dalit woman, considered “untouchable” by her low caste, who is raped by a high caste politician. When accusing him of such, she is imprisoned for thievery. Sampat Pal decides to fight for her, against all odds, and a series of events unfold, exposing the depths of the violence against women and the corruption in the system which allows it to prevail. It ends (no spoilers!) with the question of if violence is revolutionary and necessary.
With the recent surge of women coming forward as survivors of sexual assault in Hollywood and the current political climate which has seen a rise in violence against the marginalised, Pink Sari Revolution, though set in Uttar Pradesh, India, is not as distant as it may seem. These are global problems.
The play doesn’t provide easy answers but rather uncovers the variety of them. On a striking set designed by Isla Shaw, the action takes places around a tree with branches that are reminiscent of the silhouette of a Hindu deity. The stage is dim when Dr Bhavna Sharma (Goldy Notay) justifies why she refused to examine Sheelu after the rape but has a clinic to help other women who are seeking treatment. But it is draped in pink when Sampat Pal calls together the Gulabi Gang to fight for Sheelu, singing and marching with their sticks in the air. It is not a subtle piece but should a play on such horrific violence need to be? All the same, the moments where the women help each other into their saris shows the time, delicacy and collaborative effort that goes into what they are fighting for – a world where women are able to study, marry and exist as they please, without fear and without shame.
Regardless of whether you stand to watch or march with Sampat, one thing is certain: “Shame is not justice.” And we are incredibly fortunate to hear the stories of women who are often missing from our conversations on violent misogyny, opening up a discourse on power that women of colour, particularly those outside of the west, are excluded from. Sampat Pal and the Gulabi Gang challenge common portrayals of revolution that lack the colour Pink Sari Revolution undoubtedly brought to the stage.
Read Hummy’s interview with director Suba Das here