Pink Sari Revolution by Amana Fontanella-Khan
21st Oct 2013
In December 2012, the world was rocked by the news of a young student and her friend who, hitching a ride in what they thought was a legitimate charter bus in New Delhi, were beaten and brutally raped before being dumped at the roadside to be picked up by passersby. One of the women’s condition was so horrific that she died from her injuries, turning the incident into a murder investigation.
The plight of India’s women has, quite rightly, been in the limelight ever since, and it is figures such as Sampat Pal Devi; the heroine of Mumbai-journalist Amana Fontanella-Khan’s well-researched Pink Sari Revolution and leader of the revolutionary Gulabi Gang, from whom India’s political leaders should perhaps be taking advice.
The message is clear; India’s social revolution still has a long way to go and Pal, in all her splendid rhetoric and arrogance, is probably the one to lead the charge. Sampat Pal is an extraordinary woman whose bravery and strict moral code was born out of an upbringing that is the norm for many of India’s women.
A bride at the tender age of twelve and a mother at only fifteen, Pal has been witness to the injustices, both physical and social, that those at the bottom of the pile must face, and boy has she had enough.
Assembling her “Pink Gang” in 2006, tens of thousands of women across the continent now don the distinctive pink saris (ensuring that everyone remains on a level pegging, regardless of their place in India’s caste system) and traditional Indian laathis with which to protect themselves and their charges.
Championing her cause in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh – arguably India’s most lawless and poverty-stricken region – Sampat Pal certainly has her work cut out for her. It’s fortunate that nowadays she often has a group of outraged, angry woman standing right by her side to help.
Writing in a style that is often a little too subjective and overly-focused on specific events and details, Sampat Pal’s message is inspiring, but Fontanella-Khan’s prose can be awkward and stilted.
Is this a novelised account of real events or a genuine piece of journalism? Has Khan actually met the gang leader in the flesh or are her seemingly verbatim accounts entirely imagined? If this is supposed to be New Journalism then the reader may be sorely disappointed.
Frustration on this count vanishes only as we are greeted with reams of references to authoritative articles and author interviews at the back of the book – couldn’t these have been interspersed throughout?
It’s likely that a clearer account of the author actually meeting this feminist icon in the flesh would give Pink Sari Revolution much more clout and a clearer sense of place and time.
However loosely structured Fontanella-Khan’s first book may be, the message is clear; India’s social revolution still has a long way to go and Pal, in all her splendid rhetoric and arrogance, is probably the one to lead the charge.
Thanks to her you will find within these pages the female and dalit voices that are rarely heard, and discover the corruption that permeates the Indian political and policing institutions from top to bottom.
Although Fontanella-Khan forgoes the evocative prose of more esteemed novelists, her distinct advantage is that this is real life, and all the more moving for it.
We are enlightened and emboldened by Pal’s efforts and, short of becoming a Big Brother contestant as the social worker did last year, leave with the burning desire to don a bright pink sari and go rough up some kameena. Big style.