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The concluding documentary in HBO and HBO2‘s month of documentaries about modern-day India is the story of women’s rights in rural India. As a young girl in rural India, Sampat Pal was married into a family where she was often beaten. But she fought back, leaving her in-laws and eventually becoming famous as a champion for beleaguered women throughout Uttar Pradesh.
The latest foray into the lives of extraordinary women from director Kim Longinotto (Rough Aunties), Pink Saris profiles the unlikely political activists of Northern India’s Gulabi Gang and their fearless leader, Sampat Pal, who battle antiquated caste traditions that produce lives of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. The moving documentary debuts November 30, exclusively on HBO2.
Sampat Pal is the leader of the Gulabi Gang (aka the Pink Gang), a vigilante group of women in Northern India distinguished by their distinctive bright pink saris. Like many other women, Pal was married as a young girl into a family that made her work hard and often beat her. Unlike most other Indian women, she overcame her problems to become an outspoken, self-described “messiah” for women.
Though domestic abuse is illegal in India, tradition and the caste system are steadfastly upheld by many, especially in the rural areas where the Pink Gang operates. By tradition, women are not allowed to live with their own parents once they are married, and are at the mercy of the husband’s family.
If a woman comes from a lower caste, she is often not allowed to marry a man of higher rank. Pal’s strategy is to expose abusive husbands, in-laws and other offenders by settling family matters out in the open, turning the tables on those who did the damage.
Among the women who see her and the Pink Gang as their only hope are Rekha, a 14-year-old homeless “untouchable” (the lowest caste, whose members are now known as Dalits) who is three months pregnant and unable to marry her unborn child’s father because of her low caste, and 15-year-old Renu, whose husband from an arranged marriage has abandoned her and whose father-in-law has been abusing her.
Pal says, “Forget tradition. Women won’t suffer in silence. They won’t keep quiet any more.” While Pink Saris highlights Sampat Pal’s strength and passion as a leader, as well as her unique way of resolving disputes, it also sheds light on her private troubles. Her partner, Babuji, who has watched Pal change over the years, is less certain about her high-profile methods.
Kim Longinotto, the world-renowned director of Pink Saris, has won awards at festivals worldwide, including the World Cinema Jury Prize in Documentary at Sundance for Rough Aunties, which aired on HBO2 in May 2010; a 2008 Peabody Award and two Cannes awards for Sisters in Law; and an Amnesty International DOEN Award at IDFA and Best Doc UK Spotlight at Hot Docs for The Day I Will Never Forget, which premiered at Sundance in 2003 and debuted on Cinemax that year.
The Museum of Modern Art honored her with a film retrospective of her body of work in 2009 and she received Hot Docs’ Outstanding Achievement Award in 2010.