Kim Longinotto’s documentary on the Gulabi Gang of Uttar Pradesh, distributed by Women Make Movies has made much splash in recent months. Making the anti-patriarchal and anti-traditional activities of Sampat Devi Lal a center piece of this work, Longinotto focuses on this firecracker of a leader, who rescues women from abusive situations, holding the families and men accountable, asserting and empowering women’s rights in the process, and is a legend in the annals of contemporary activism. Sampat Devi’s sharp tongue and bold moves are necessary to awaken years of toil and suffering that women have been going through in rural India. The very idea of the Gulabi gang is charming and there is no denying that watching Sampat Devi is a treat in itself. She is fearless and forthright, compassionate and patient, holding our attention at her riveting force in fighting abusive husbands, fathers and father-in-laws and all varieties of male antagonists in between. This film provides a primer on the necessity of social activism in rural India.
The activism of the Gulabi Gang has expanded since, where Sampat Devi’s work has influenced others to fight corruption and abuse in that area. This is as much against poverty as it is against the orthodoxy of the caste system in rural areas and the patriarchal power that has gripped women in perpetual bondage for centuries.
There are moments of weakness in this these acts of activism. Sampat Devi does not protect a woman from her own family, despite vowing to the same in front of the camera, mainly because this is her family she is involved in and to her, the family bonds seem to matter more than the commitment to activism. Longinotto does not dwell on it further but doesn’t miss making observation. It is a simple slip in an otherwise effective and successful career of Sampat Devi and a reminder that this sort of activism has to continue if it has to have any effect well beyond the entrenched system of values.
To read interview of Kim Longinotto, click here.