Editor's Note: The latest National Crime Records Bureau statistics show an 83% increase in crimes against women, with as many as 39 cases reported every hour across the country. There are several thousand more instances that go unreported. And yet, such felonious acts represent only a limited view of the manner in which women in this country must face brutality. In this series of reported pieces, Firstpost examines those societal forces that, while beyond the ambit of law, have the same deleterious effect on women as criminal acts.
Tirwa, Kannauj: "Jab Anguri ki lathi chalti hai, tab kisi neta ka phone aur police ka raub kaam nahi aata hai (Neither a politician nor a policeman can throw their weight around once Anguri's baton works)," says Anguri Dahadiya, the founder of Green Gang.
The members of her group can easily be identified by their attire — a green saree with a lathi as their accessory. On 17 July, around 15 Green Gang members gathered a few kilometres from the Kannauj district headquarters after they learnt that a newly married woman was facing domestic abuse allegedly at the hands of her in-laws because of dowry and other demands.
The group starts walking towards Bholeshwar temple sloganeering, "Green Gang zindabad. Jo khud ko samjhe gunda hai, uske liye hamare pass danda hai (Hail Green gang! We deal with rogues with a baton)."
These women believe in immediate resolution of problems and act upon the instructions of their leader without any question. Dahadiya leads the march with bullish strides, occasionally scolding gang members and maintaining her angry demeanour throughout. She hardly smiles. After marching for almost two kilometres from the Tirwa intersection, they reach the house of the victim and are initially not allowed to meet the woman. Dahadiya remains persistent and the family is forced to buckle under pressure.
When the members question the victim over the scars on her face and body, she denies any harassment by her in-laws. A teardrop then rolls down the victim's cheek and Dahadiya swings into action. She slaps the husband and the gang follows her lead. After receiving a few blows from these female vigilantes, the family accepts their fault, promises to treat the victim like their own daughter and never demand dowry from her.
The case is solved. This is how the Green Gang works.
When Anguri meets Phulan
The Green Gang was formed by Dahadiya in 2010 after her house was seized by an influential person in Kannauj. "We were already languishing in poverty when they drove us out from our own house. We had no money to get the property registered in our name and that was our fault. Those who removed us were powerful people and are still living here. So, I decided to become Phulan Devi at first," she says.
"I was angry. My husband was on his deathbed and my family, including my three young kids, was on the road with no roof over our heads. I then stole some mustard from a farm nearby to feed my family. It made me think. If I become Phulan Devi, then my family will also suffer a lot. So I dropped that plan and formed the Green Gang instead," she says adding that the tribe has been growing despite the difficulties. Currently, the 14,400-member team operates in more than 14 districts of Uttar Pradesh and solves around 4-5 cases per month on an average.
Dahadiya says she travels in trains to unknown destinations to recruit more members. "The train is the best place to interact with strangers. Often, people recognise me and I request them to get me in touch with a few vocal women of their villages and arrange a meeting with them. I then visit those places and tell them about our gang. The interested ones join the gang and they are asked to find more members. Our gang never takes money for joining or solving any problems. But we do accept donations, because we have a few bills to pay," she says.
Once a member joins the gang, they are asked to come for the meetings and do the required work, which involves going to the spot for solving issues or carrying out surveys. Since Dahadiya believes in empowering women, only female members accompany her on outdoor cases. Often, people who benefit from the gang's services end up being a part of it.
Take the case of Rashmi Yadav, resident of Tirwa and her husband Umesh Yadav. The couple joined Green Gang after Dahadiya helped Rashmi in dealing with her in-laws who had allegedly assaulted her for dowry and kicked her out of the house in 2016. "Anguri is more than a parent for me. She is no less than a god. I remember that my in-laws kicked me out in torn clothes. My body was exposed to everyone in the neighborhood. Anguri maai came to my rescue," recalls Rashmi adding that the couple attends all group meetings to help others.
"Bringing women together was never an easy job. People hesitate coming out of their homes or to share their problems with us," says Dahadiya. "When we visit different families and ask women to join our group, they refuse it. Women are still hesitant to join us," she adds.
The reasons for this could also include the group's idea of conflating vigilantism with women empowerment. While speaking to this reporter, Anguri talks about a case where they thrashed a 26-year-old woman after she was found to be adulterous by the gang. "She came back to her maternal home and was adamant on not going back with her husband despite several requests. Through the investigation conducted by us, we came to know that the woman was having affair with a married man from a different village. The woman used to go and meet him every second day. We tried to explain to the woman that the man was using her but she was mad and never paid any heed to our advice," says Dahadiya.
"We decided to teach her a lesson as everyone in her family was very upset due to this. It took me just three-four slaps and a few blows by the Green Gang members. The woman is now living happily with her husband and will soon be a mother. She recently visited me and apologised for her past," claims Anguri.
"When we get a case, I never jump to conclusions on my own. I investigate it first by sending one team on the ground and assigning the other to work as undercover agents. Later, the gang comes into action to fix the problem. Though I've been to jail many times, I am not afraid of it," she says, claiming that once she slapped a government officer and made him wear a petticoat, bangles, and make-up for using cuss words for them. "I am not going to stop fighting for women," she declares defiantly.
'Reduction in atrocities against women in gang's territory'
"Six FIRs were lodged against me but they eventually got scrapped, because the police never found any proof against me. I was never wrong. Yes, we were violent a couple of times but that was for the betterment of the society and the victim's family. We aren't scared," says the 50-year-old.
According to Pankaj Srivastava, a local stringer who has been covering the gang for the past few years, Dahadiya is doing a very good job in empowering women and standing with them when no one else dares to. "The only problem with Anguri is that she gets violent at times, due to which she has had to go to jail. She is a good lady and always tries to do justice with the victims, but she is misunderstood because of her violent behaviour," he says.
Kannauj SP Kirit Kumar is of the same opinion. "The problem arises when they try to take the law into their hands. Holding lathis is considered to be a sign of women empowerment, but this is not fully true. This definition needs to be changed," he says, adding that despite that, these women are doing good work.
"At times, they have also helped the police. There has been a reduction in cases of atrocities against women in the areas where the gang operates. Before coming to the police, people try to solve the matter through mutual consent with the help of the Green Gang which is good," the SP says.
(Saurabh Sharma is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com)
Updated Date: Aug 24, 2018 17:40 PM