Talk about thought provoking! The Pink Sari Revolution is the story of Sampat Pal, an Indian woman who created a movement to oppose the oppression of women in Uttar Pradesh Province, Northern India.
The Leicester Curve has worked with playwright Purva Naresh and journalist Amana Fontanella-Khan to create a play that shares the journey of the Pink Sari Revolution to date. As part of the process they wanted to include a debate at the end of each performance to hear the views of various experts and give the audience a chance to air their views. My research into the Doubting Twin meant I’d given a lot of thought to how women use power, so it seemed like a good fit. And it was very different to anything I’d done before, so of course I was up for it.
Reading the book ahead of time, I was already very challenged by the ideas and actions of Sampat Pal. I’ve always seen my self as pacifist – the idea of hurting another person is totally abhorrent to me. And if the aim is to stop men raping and abusing women then threatening them with violence seems to be counter productive and just joining them in their own game.
But I do have a couple of ‘howevers’:
First – who am I to say what’s right or wrong in such a different culture? To women in Uttar Pradesh my life would be unrecognisable and vice versa. I can sit in my comfortable home with a loving and respectful husband that I chose for myself and come up with all the reasons why peaceful action is the way forward. But would I feel the same if I’d been married off before the onset of puberty to an older man and forced into childbirth when I was too young? And if young women around me were suffering in the same way, unable to lead the life they choose and being badly treated and blamed by those who should care for them?
Second – if I was a young girl being raped and abused, would I refuse the help of someone with a big stick? And would I want them to hold back from behaving in the same way as my abuser? Values are wonderful things in the comfort zone. The real question is whether we can stick to them when the s**t hits the fan.
Gandhi managed to do it and brought real change through non-violence. Many were hurt and killed, as was Gandhi himself, so violence was involved but not intended. So could this be done in the same way?
Then there is the abuser himself
The Pink Sari Gang are fighting against deeply held beliefs and norms. In India, women are definitely second class citizens, there for mans comfort and care. Men hold the power and believe they can do just what they want, regardless of the woman involved. I assume this means they don’t see what they are doing as wrong.
It’s not an excuse, but it’s a reason that requires not only the immediate action of the Pink Sari Gang, but also a fundamental change in attitude. Until men in India – and the rest of the world – see women as equal and worthy of care there will always be some version of these problems.
So, no answers, just masses of questions.
And Sampat Pal?
She is a woman of powerful beliefs with a massive drive to help others. She also wants control and power. Her aim is to bring women together into a powerhouse that will support and help those in need and she has achieved that to a large extent. She is at her best in the fight, but that passion is different to the energy needed to keep the women together and to enable them to find their own power.
She is portrayed both in the play and the book as a one woman revolution who is going to help whether she’s wanted or not. She’s doing what she believes to be right regardless of what the women involved actually want. So is that help or is she just another bully?
And where does that leave the women in her gang? Are they finding their own power at last or still doing as they’re told?
Probably a bit of both. It takes ages to overcome a lifetime of conditioning so Sampat Pal is a life saver with her determination and angry drive. She’s reset the measure of what’s acceptable and given permission for women to fight back.
The question I still have is whether this will create lasting change. At present the essence remains the same: people with the power do what they believe to be right regardless of the impact on others. The Pink Sari Revolution will save some women from a fate worse than death and thank heaven for that. Whether it will effect significant change in a broken system still remains to be seen.
I hope so, I really do.