Pink Vigilante's poll fight for Indian women's rights

Sampat Pal Devi (left) with the Pink Vigilante group
Image caption Sampat Pal (left) leads a group of vigilante women who wears pink saris

Indian elections often throw up quirky candidates. The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder profiles one highly unusual hopeful in the local elections in Uttar Pradesh, the country's most politically influential and populous state.

Driving through a country highway for the better part of four hours, west of the holy city of Allahabad, brings you to Bundelkhand.

It's an arid region, with forests, hills and ravines - one of India's poorest and least-developed areas where only the toughest survive.

As we arrive in Barghar, a small town in the Manikpur constituency, we notice a large crowd of women gathered by the side of the road. All of them are dressed in pink.

They have surrounded a wiry woman in her 50s who is beaming and talking into a mobile phone.

This is Sampat Pal, the candidate fielded from these parts by the country's ruling Congress Party and head of the quaintly named Gulabi Gang or Pink Vigilantes.


But there is nothing quaint about Sampat Pal.

This formidable woman has built her reputation as the head of a group of women who over the past few years have targeted corrupt policemen, wife-beaters and men who abuse or assault women.

They often, quite literally, take the law into their own hands as they beat the wrongdoers with wooden clubs.

Image caption The vigilantes have targeted corrupt officials and wife beaters

So why has Sampat Pal made the transition to electoral politics and seemingly joined hands with those she has targeted in the past?

"We realise we are not strong enough to carry out our plans of emancipating women and getting rid of poverty", says her close aide, Suman Singh Chauhan.

"We don't have money or power. So we need to get one of our own into politics. If we get one person elected, we'll become powerful."

Sampat Pal agrees.

"We have tremendous support on the ground because of our reputation. Women make up half of the population and yet have so little political power.

"That's why I need to get elected and set things right."

The irony that someone who often took the law into her own hands could now become a lawmaker is something she quickly brushes aside.

'Dangerous area'

But despite the obvious admiration from the women around her, there are some who privately question her motives and her credentials.

Locals talk about how it is the media who have helped build up her image.

There are others who are not entirely convinced.

Image caption The vigilantes work in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh

We meet Maya Devi, a young woman who had attended Sampat Pal's political rally.

"We were brought in this morning from our village by members of the Pink Vigilantes and told to attend her rally and show our support," she says.

"I'm not sure she's going to help us at all. Whenever I've asked for anything she says 'first get me elected, then I'll help you'."

But Sampat Pal dismisses such fears.

"I'll continue working for the poor women of this area as I've always done", she says.

"Our society has always exploited women. We need to change that."

As the sun comes down, people begin to scurry home.

"This is a dangerous area after dusk," says one local journalist. "There are armed gangs and criminals who come in from the jungles. No-one steps out."

Little surprise then that the leader of the Pink Vigilantes is such a draw in an area that's often described as the badlands of India.

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