“A Girl’s Life is Cruel.”

Sakhi speaks at the screening of ‘Pink Saris’ at the Athena Film Festival

“A girl’s life is cruel,”  says Sampat Pal Devi, at the beginning of the film ‘Pink Saris’ about the Gulabi Gang- a group of fierce women who advocate for their fellow sisters living through domestic abuse-  on foot and clad in pink saris.

Early this month, Sakhi was invited to speak on a panel following the screening of ‘Pink Saris,’ at the Athena Film Festival.  Created by acclaimed director Kim Longinotto , ‘Pink Saris’ follows  the brave work of Sampat Pal Devi, a woman who took it upon herself to travel through towns and villages of her native Uttar Pradesh- determined to fight patriarchal family and social systems that sanction and perpetuate violence against women.  The Gulabi Gang is a group including many women whom Sampat Pal Devi once helped negotiate with or leave their abusive husbands and in-laws.

Captured raw and uncut, the film provoked much discussion among the audience about the importance of outreach in anti-violence work, the courage it takes for women to speak out against abuse and the value of education and economic resources to enable women to lead self-sufficient lives.

Following the screening, representatives of anti-violence organizations such as Sakhi, Manavi, and Breakthrough’s Bell Bajao Campaign took the stage to address the ways each group works with their communities, what it does to enhance women’s capacities and how it works to increasing awareness about domestic violence.

“The work we do here in our communities is no different from the work Sampat Pal Devi does,” said Tiloma Jayasinghe, Executive Director of Sakhi.  Tiloma talked about the overwhelming need for women’s education and literacy, which Sakhi provides for its survivors through its growing Economic Empowerment (EE) Program. The EE program offers survivors of domestic violence, access to financial literacy courses, computer literacy programs, scholarships to continue their education and groundbreaking new policy work on combating financial abuse. (See article “Financial Abuse and Domestic Violence” in this newsletter)

Similar to the communities Sampat Pal Devi works in, one of the major problems with tackling an issue like domestic violence is a community’s hesitation and unwillingness to talk about it as a real, existing issue.  Much like the Gulabi Gang, Sakhi also faces obstacles when it comes to bringing this stigmatized topic to the table.

Shamita Das Gupta, co-founder of Sakhi’s sister organization Manavi duly noted the progress our communities have made. “While there is a lot of work to be done, I have to say over the last two decades, the South Asian community in New York and New Jersey has come a long way in acknowledging that domestic violence is a problem in our communities.”

A girl’s life can be cruel whether she endures domestic abuse as a child bride in a village in India, or as an immigrant woman isolated and unaware of her rights in a neighborhood in New York City.  However, women and girls are empowered and enabled to live violence free lives through the compassion, advocacy and programmatic work done everyday by dedicated organizations like the Gulabi Gang, Breakthrough, Manavi and Sakhi.