Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Gulabi Gang (2012)

India is changing, no matter how slowly. It's a message full of hope, coming from a documentary that takes upon the deeds of Sampat Pal Devi, a middle aged Indian who dared to go against social injustice in general and domestic abuse/violence that women are largely facing in particular; she questioned the children marriages, the dowries, the corruption of the authorities that remained idle in many cases due to bribery and she managed to bring about a wind of change.

Sampat Pal Devi started her effort to form an informal organisation or "gang"as early as 2006. Its registered members that are by now more around ten thousand (according to the official website) are sporting pink saris and carrying a bamboo stick each, ready to use it if they face violence against their objectives. The Gulabi Gang being a women's movement, it also accepts male members, mainly to help in transportation or protection of the female leads. This film, produced on 2012 and screened in several film festivals -one of them Tampere Film Festival, where I had the chance to watch it- is in fact not the first, but the second documentary on the Gulabi Gang and its struggle with social injustice and inhuman women's treatment; Pink Saris directed by English documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto, well-known for the portrayal of women characters in verité style, had also quite a success.

Gulabi Gang seems to me a little bit more precious, coming from a native eye, the Indian independent filmmaker Nishtha Jain, also known for her successful Lakshmi and Me (2007). The director here can communicate directly with the people shown -speaking their language- amidst quasi-ridiculous, quasi-moving situations; Sampat is trying to get answers regarding the supposed "death" of a young woman due to fire in her kitchen, infuse enthusiasm to village women to sign and become members of the gang, explain to a confused woman why she has to give priority to law over her maternal feelings (of preference) to her male children (the woman says, boldly that, if her sons kill one of their sisters, because she married out of love and not according to her family wishes, they are rightfully acting in accordance with the family tradition and she would not testify for them to go to jail). 

Funny moments include the new members signing: women don't know their age, being short of birth certificates, so the age is noted by estimation. These bits of humour are much wanted, because the subject matter is more than heavy and the realisation by European audiences that law enforcement and human rights are unknown in some parts of the world doesn't come easy. I could not stop wondering how is it possible  for people not to understand the real meaning of injustice and their right to ask and fight for it on our times. Of course, I will never know how it is to be in desperate need of a cow, or whatever the dowry was -in cases of suspicions of murder of a girl by her husband, the family of the late bride can agree not to pursue the killer, on simple handing back of the dowry. Sad, but powerfully made, the documentary makes the viewer one of the Gulabi gang enthusiasts or the doubting Thomases that stay in circle and witness the leaders taking action. It's hard to witness the cases of injustice and violence, but it's harder to digest the fact that social justice is not exactly common sense in the country where many believe in fate, but it needs education as fertile soil to grow on.

* Not sure what to make of the information that Sampat took part in the TV show Bigg Boss 6, apparently some version of Big Brother, but one thing is certain: any publicity is good publicity, and  this women's movement leader needs a lot of it, if she is to being taken seriously by state officials in order to achieve her goals. So, Sampat is not only a strong woman, but also a smart one. 

No comments: