India’s Green Gang Are Women Warriors Against Patriarchy In Villages
Whether it’s a matter of settling land disputes or to appropriate drunkards who create ruckus, Uttar Pradesh based Green Gang founded by Angoori Deheriya deals with everything. A gang of thousands of women draped in green coloured sarees are a force no goon wants to cross paths with. While today the Green Gang is well known, Angoori’s story is of a woman single handedly taking on a patriarchal system is a mission to deal with unfairness, inequity and discrimination against women. She started the ‘Sangathan’ in 2010 fed up of the injustices she met with due to a land dispute.
How It All Began
In a conversation with SheThePeople, Angoori recounts how in the mid-2000s her family nearly disintegrated when her three children were young and her husband fell severely ill and was bed-ridden. It was she who had to provide for everyone in her family without any permanent income. “I used to make cardboard boxes for shoes, sweets, sarees etc. and sell those to earn a meagre living. When I got some money, I bought a small plot of 22 feet by 40 feet for 35,000 rupees near Tirwa in Kannauj district of Uttar Pradesh, but I never got any registry done, neither did the seller ever mention it. Since that area was far away from the village itself and understanding my family’s position, the man gave it to me in exchange for money in small instalments over a period of two years.
“After two years, I decided to build a small room in that plot since earlier we were living in a kaccha house there but as that area had started to develop, a lot of troublemakers started to come there often who would drink alcohol, pick up brawls with everyone around and did illegal activities. They also instigated the person who had sold the plot to me to throw me out of that place or they will kill him. So, he threatened us to leave as I was alone and poor, I couldn’t do much about it. And since, I had no papers to prove that I was the owner of that plot, his brother, who is a lawyer, proved that I was living there illegally. That day I lost everything that I had prepared bit by bit by earning the measly amount that I did,” Angoori recounts about her struggle and fight against injustice. This difficult phase inspired her to start the Green Gang. She knew she alone didn’t face such injustice.
They say a woman’s rage shouldn’t be messed with. Even though Angoori lost her plot, she was so angry that she thrashed the man she bought it from. She says he was so helpless that he had to invite his entire family to take on Angoori.
“I wanted to be the the Phoolan Devi against injustice.” Phoolan Devi also known as “Bandit Queen”, was an Indian bandit and politician who took to crime after enduring child marriage, poverty, gang rape and abuse. Phoolan’s revenge went down in history books as an act of righteous rebellion. Angoori was incensed after losing her plot, and like Phoolan, she used all her might to pressurize the man to give back her 40,000 rupees in exchange of giving up her plot. Even though she got her money back but it still wasn’t a victory in the real sense as her business was completely disrupted leaving her family to go empty-stomach for days on an end. “In my entire life, I still regret that one day that I had to steal to put food in my children’s mouth. I can never forget that day,” says Angoori with sadness.
He threatened us to leave but as I was alone and poor, I couldn’t do much about it. That day I lost everything that I had prepared bit by bit by earning the measly amount that I did – Angoori, Green Gang India
Starting The Green Gang
Angoori says her life’s drudgery was her biggest inspiration and she pledged to do something about it by starting the Green Gang. “Although the thought did cross my mind that I was poor and not even an elected member of the assembly or parliament, how will I help people. But I had the conviction that I needed to do this. That’s when I thought of organising a group of women and whenever I’ll be able to gather 1000-2000 women, I will be able to fight with anyone from common people to even people in position of power. As soon as I was firm on this resolve, I started to visit villages to unite women,” Angoori says adding with pride that now the Gang is 14,942 women-strong group and has grown beyond UP to Haryana, Delhi and even Rajasthan.
But creating this strong connection with women wasn’t easy for Angoori. Because patriarchy has been fed to us for decades and centuries. “Initially, I remember I started from my home in the afternoons and travelled about 5-10 km every day to visit villages and tell and explain to farmers, who come back from their fields at that time, about my ordeal. A lot of people would gather around me to hear my story and then I would ask them to let their women join me to crackdown against injustice happening in the town. They would listen to me and even shed a tear or two after listening to me but they would not allow their women to form a gang with me. That was a very difficult time for me.”
The task of mobilizing women
Angoori started with two women living in her neighbourhood. But soon, women who were facing violence in their personal life and were subjugated by the authorities and dabang (powerful) men also started to join the Green Gang. Their first ‘assignment’ came in as early as 2010, a few months after she started the gang and it was a matter of land dispute. She recollects that she mediated in the matter in which the villagers of Deopur village near Tirwa had illegally appropriated a poor man’s land. Another case was when some Thakur men mishandled a Dalit woman in a village near Kanpur. She says that she keeps a journal of every case that her gang has fought in the last nine years since they came into existence.
“I spoke to the district magistrate for the first time at that time and they even listened to me and kept my word. It gave me a lot of confidence to continue with my work,” shares Angoori. She also claims that her gang doesn’t discriminate between caste and creed of women. “We welcome women from all faiths and communities.”
In these years, Angoori’s gang of women have gone and beat up several unruly men who were violent with their wives and were addicted to alcohol. She says that alcoholism is one issue that is most prominent in her state and that doesn’t just affect men but also leaves a deep impact on the women living with such men.
Modus Operandi of Green Gang
Talking about how the gang functions now, Angoori reveals that whenever she receives a call for help from anywhere, she gets all the details and tells them she will send her team to do a recce the area. But she doesn’t tell them when that would be. This way, she says, the gang doesn’t fall for traps or wrong information and is able to assess the genuineness of a case.
Once her women go around the village to check up on the issue and if they find any truth in it, they tell her and that’s when the Gang is activated. She supports the case by formalising their complaint or sometimes take the situation head on herself. The number of women she takes along with her depends on the gravity of the case. She says that she has even got more than a few hundred women to show strength in several cases.
Sharing With All
“When handling a big case I do ask people to arrange for the travel and refreshment of the women. Now a lot of people give donations to us which I distribute equally among women and it encourages them to come again to show solidarity. At least it ensures that they aren’t wasting time for nothing in return,” Angoori says. She hopes that she is able to create a system that allows some kind of proper livelihood to the women who work with her.
“A lot of people give donations to us which I distribute equally among women and it encourages them to come again to show solidarity. At least it ensures that they aren’t wasting time for nothing in return – Angoori, Green Gang India
Angoori’s life After Green Gang
Since Green Gang works as a social entity and doesn’t drive a profit motive, Angoori spends all her time building the network. Her earlier challenges of money have settled out over the years after she started the gang. Her eldest son is a teacher and the son younger to him works as a coordinator and the youngest daughter got a government job. “They are all married and now I just do social service. I have a small shop of junk material that my husband looks after,” reveals Angoori.
Talking about how the Green Gang has been able to counter patriarchy, which is so prevalent in Uttar Pradesh, Angoori says, “I also thought that I won’t be able to make it successful because of the highly patriarchal society that we live in. But what I have understood over the years is that it is not just women who are victims but men too. And when men see the kind of we have done, they are happy to send their wives to become a part of the group and we, in turn, have helped men too in several disputes
Pictures by Angoori/ The Green Gang