Last Thursday Cinema Politica screened the movie “Gulabi Gang” that focused on a group of courageous women fighting gender inequality and violence in the northern Indian region of Uttar Pradesh. The work truly offers a beautiful yet often revolting portrayal about the truths of our planet.
Firstly, I wish to express my personal appreciation towards the organization Cinema Politica, a Montreal-based media arts initiative and non-profit global network that projects independent political films and videos by artists of various backgrounds and origins. Its dedicated members offer a stark reminder of worldwide issues whilst simultaneously attempting to pop the bubble that engulfs our privileged lives.
Feminism and gender empowerment are the focal points of “Gulabi Gang.” Yet, in these modern times it is important to ask what exactly “feminism” is. What forms has it taken in recent decades? While no expert on the subject, I believe that there is not one precise definition for such an important and divided movement.
While many of us are perhaps aware of the more loud and obnoxious forms of pop-feminism that have recently flourished in some of the world’s developed countries, this movie focuses on the more humble and grassroots pockets of the movement. Here we will explore a rather unique approach to the empowerment of women, in a region where it most needed.
The movie can be defined as a visual diary where the cameras serves as the pen and transcribe the incidents experienced by the Gulabi Gang over a period of fifty days. With a low budget and open-ended script, Gulalbi Gang is a disturbingly raw peek into the lives of genuinely oppressed women. The charismatic and strong personality of Sampat Pal Devi (leader of the Gulabi Gang) provided humoristic and light overtones that helped build the striking contrast with the brutal reality that was exposed.
Realizing that the movie merely provided us with a tip of the iceberg view regarding the realities faced by women in the region, the events on screen generated a strong sense of uneasiness and empathy amongst the viewers.
We witness various forms of injustice towards women. Men are systematically presented as the better and superior sex, while women are consistently repressed and subjugated to masculine desires. The traditional Indian sari, as often worn by rural women in a manner reminiscent of the burqa, veils the women’s individuality.
The lack of education within these villages means that many women are indoctrinated into interiorizing and accepting their status as the weaker sex. In all aspects of socialization, women’s opinions hold featherweight compared to that of their hefty male counterparts.
The most jarring and dissonant example of the inhumane oppression was offered by the horrifying incineration of a woman, presented completely whole and uncensored for the audience to soak in.
As soon as the Gulabi Gang was made aware of the incident, the crew of women rushed to the site of the atrocity. The theatrical entrance of about thirty women dressed in bright pink saris and wielding robust wooden sticks was reminiscent of a feminine Indian Justice League. There is no mistaking them, and their image is one that resonates in the imagination. The color pink reflects the conventions that pink is feminine, however it also embodies the confidence and comfort these women have found with their identity. The stick’s imagery is that of self-defense, but also serves the practical purpose of helping the older members to walk the long distances they cover to carry out their activities.
The Gulabi Gang circumstantially adopts the roles they find necessary for helping with female advocacy. First acting as detectives, they gather intel regarding the case at hand, be it from relatives, friends or locals. After sufficient investigation, the gang relays the information to the nearest police station. While they face harsh criticism, and at times hostility, the women never back down when trying to help out a fellow sister.
In the grander scheme of things, the Gulabi Gang is a source of education, inspiration and emancipation for women in the region. They routinely visit random villages, prompting on-spot recruiting and information sessions. Any woman may join, the only criteria for joining the Gulabi Gang is a willingness to recognize and fight the social injustice that has shrouded parts of the country. Optimistically, the movement now consists of a staggering 400,000 women!
Recruitment sessions are an amusing event for the entire village. Be it elders, kids, men or women; all are welcomed. The bold Sampat explains that the only way out of oppression is for the locals to take matters into their own hands, to vote with reason and not fear during the local village elections. She provides the hope that by uniting, the oppressed can remove the corrupt village chiefs legally and without fear of reprisals.
Objectively speaking, assessing the impact of the movement is difficult. In the concluding Q/A session followed by the film, the director lamented that in fact very little political change has been ushered by the Gulabi Gang. Infighting within the Gang has also limited the growth and effectiveness of the movement; Sempat’s lack of a clear and realizable vision has led to divisions within the Gang.
Yet these shortcomings should in no way belittle the feats accomplished by these inspiring women. The awareness and the meaning they have instilled in uneducated rural populations is no modest feat. Political parties in India are all ware of the Gulabi Gang, and we can only hope for them to gain weight in the political realm. Only time will tell.
The beauty of Cinema Politica is the state it leaves viewers in after such a screening. One finds themselves in a silent, contemplative and reflexive state of mind for hours to days after the movie; a discomfort that questions firmly held beliefs and acts as a catalyst for pure growth. This is a state I personally strive to experience regardless of the suffering that goes hand in hand.
Overhearing the mundane drunken babbles of bar attendees after the screening left me with a tangible sense of sadness and emptiness. Cinema Politica succeeds in delivering insightful yet importantly painful voyages across the rich cultural and historical canvas that is our planet. The pictures painted expose truths that we convenient turn a blind eye to from our sheltered lives. If you appreciate getting ripped out of your comfort zone and questioning cherished beliefs, give the next screening a shot. I know that I will be there.
Find out more about Cinema Politica on their website : http://www.cinemapolitica.org/
Alternatively, receive facebook notifications on the following screening at :
– McGill Cinema Politica : https://www.facebook.com/CinemaPoliticaMcGill?fref=ts
– Concordia Cinema Politica : https://www.facebook.com/groups/4823277121/?fref=ts