Indian women form a gang and roam their village, punishing men for their bad behaviour
By South-Asia correspondent Siobhan Heanue in Uttar Pradesh Updated Sat at 6:28pm
The women banded together to drive away domestic violence, gambling and drinking. ABC News
Asha Devi changes from her regular housework clothes into a striking green sari. The sari is her armour.
- More than a third of Indian women experience physical or sexual violence at home
- The “Green Gang” fights against domestic violence, alcoholism and gambling
- A video of the gang smashing bottles of bootleg liquor went viral on social media
It protects her.
It protects every woman in her village.
“It’s very hard to be a woman here. We face problems from all sides,” Ms Devi says.
She explains in simple words the disadvantage that women are born into in this place, a small village near the holy city of Varanasi in northern India.
“Parents consider a girl child a burden,” she says.
“After marriage, we are just confined to one place and have to live according to our in-laws.”
While Ms Devi talks, more than 20 women slowly come walking across nearby fields to join her at her house.
They’re all wearing the same green sari as Ms Devi.
It is the uniform of an unlikely army.
The ‘Green Gang’ want to keep women and children safe
The women are known in these parts as the “Green Gang”.
They’ve made it their collective mission to stamp out domestic violence, alcoholism and gambling, problems they say were endangering their lives.
Gambling is illegal in India but very popular, and Khushiyari village in Uttar Pradesh was a known hotspot for the pastime.
“My husband and son were deeply into gambling, and sometimes they gambled together,” says Sheela Devi, another member of the Green Gang.
“Our entire earning was going into gambling. My daughters were growing up. How could I educate them?”
The Green Gang’s approach is unorthodox.
Together they march through the village confronting men who are troubling their wives or gambling and drinking away their income.
They’ve been known to raid gambling dens, smashing up vessels of bootleg liquor with large sticks. GIF: The women raid gambling dens and rip up the playing cards
Today they are a force to be reckoned with, but most of them suffered deeply before banding together.
Violence against women was endemic in the small farming community, as it is throughout India.
So far today police in Australia would have dealt with on average 655 domestic violence matters
Last year, India’s health ministry released the results of a survey showing that more than one-third of all women in India experience physical or sexual violence at home.
The survey found that one-third of married women suffer from domestic violence at the hands of their husbands and that the problem is greater in rural areas.
But the prevalence of domestic violence is likely to be much more widespread than the official government data shows.
Disturbingly, the same survey found that more than 50 per cent of Indian women aged between 40 and 50 believe domestic violence can be justified.
Asha Devi was regularly beaten by her husband.
“Earlier he used to beat me a lot after drinking, many times he hit my head against this wall,” she gestures.
“He used to beat me in front of our children,” she says.
First they learned their rights, then they banded together
It all began to change when a group of university students visited the village and began teaching the women about their rights.
Divyanshu Upadhyay, who runs a small charity, started by teaching the women how to write their names, open bank accounts and talk to strangers.
The lessons from the young outsiders quickly expanded.
They taught the women how to file complaints with police, and soon they were having their menfolk arrested for assault and drunkenness.
They recruited young female martial arts students from a nearby city to train the women in basic self-defence — something unheard of among rural women.
Mr Upadhyay says the experience of a close female relative shaped his views on women’s rights.
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“My own auntie [took her life]. My uncle beat her,” he says.
“At that time, I decided I have to do a lot for women.”
The group has spread its teachings to several villages in the area, and small bands of green-clad women are forming relationships with local police stations.
The women will refer violent or drunken husbands to the police, and any complaint is more likely to be taken seriously with the weight of the group behind it.
And the green saris?
The women say they chose green because it’s the colour of prosperity and peace.
Women use ‘big stick energy’ to keep men in line
Sometimes the gang instils fear in village men — especially when they do the rounds brandishing sticks to smash up booze bottles. GIF: The Green Gang became famous when video of them smashing up bottles of bootleg alcohol was posted online.
Footage of the women destroying homemade alcohol has gone viral on social media.
The women say they rarely have to resort to such extreme measures, now that people know they are serious about eradicating vices.
These days, they prefer to walk around the village in the evening and to talk to young men about the dangers of drinking and betting.
Just walking in public and speaking with authority to men represents a huge advance in status for these women.
Most of them had hardly ever left their homes before the green sari movement began.
“Earlier we were very much confined to the household, we used to live under the cover of the veil,” Asha Devi said.
“We used to talk like this,” she says, draping the head-covering from her sari down over her eyes and mouth.
She whips it off again and grins.
“Now we are 25 women all together. We are united. Our unity makes us strong. This is the reason men now respect us,” Ms Devi said.