In the land of dacoits like Dadua and Thokia, ‘commander’ of the Gulabi gang, Sampath Pal is brave heart of sorts. The echoing chorus members of her gang sing is enough to scare men who would beat the women in their family, waste family earnings in alcohol or harass anyone in villages of Banda, a backward district in the parch Bundelkhand.
Even officials in the tehsil and district administration prefer to clear the matters relating to villages associated with Pal before the gang invades their office. Pal – leader of the oppressed women – is now set to become a celebrity by becoming a part of Big Boss season six.
A team from the production team of the reality show recently went to bundelkhand to profile this real life hero. Talking to reporters, she said, “There was a time when people hated me… said that i make nuisance all the time… but now they acknowledge, why i made a noise. It feels good.” The seeds of rebellion were sown early, when Pal was deprived of formal education by her parents and married off to Munni Lal at the age of 12. She gave birth to her first child at 13, but her feisty spirit had her fighting for freedom from familial norms.
By 15, with her ‘pheriwala’ (door-to-door vendor) husband in tow, Pal separated from her in-laws and started running a tea stall in neighboring town Atarra, for sustenance. ”In Bundelkhand, women are routinely marginalized. Education levels are poor, they are ill-treated and remain restricted to their homes. I went through this treatment and could not bear it. Now, I fight to protect women from suffering in a similar vein,” adds Pal. Her first show of aggression came when Ram Milan, a local farmer who beat up his wife mercilessly, refused to relent even after Pal reasoned with him.
”He hurled obscenities at me. I realized that he would only understand the language of violence,” says Pal. She gathered a group of local women who had faced similar issues and confronted Ram Milan.
”We taught him a lesson he won’t forget in a hurry,” says Pal, with a smile of satisfaction. But that’s not all that makes Sampat Pal unique. Her work in the region – whether it is setting up sowing centers to create employment, or establishing the Gulabi Gang children’s school in Rauli Kalyanpur – have urged women from across the globe to emulate her model. ”Sampat Pal has reversed gender roles.
A lower caste woman flipping the norms and establishing her own is a very unique thing, even for the rest of the world,” said Feli Reichold, a student of anthropology from Berlin’s Free University, who was ”studying” Pal for her master’s thesis.