The Green Gang
In India, thousands of low-caste women have banded together to become vigilantes. They’re doing what the courts and police can’t: holding men accountable.
By Elizabeth Flock
Photographs by Gayatri Ganju
In a dusty north Indian hamlet in the summer of 2008, Priyanshi Rajput married a man of her mother’s choosing. She wore a red silk sari and heavy gold jewelry, a garland of fresh marigolds around her neck. Throughout the ceremony, she kept her eyes down, as was expected of a bride. Her new husband, Arvind Kumar, sat beside her, unsmiling under his thin mustache. Her mother had chosen him because they came from a poor farming family, and he held a stable government job. Perhaps he had chosen Rajput for her beauty, with her big eyes and long hair always parted to one side. As the ceremony ended, with cameras flashing and drums beating, Rajput felt a stir of emotions. That night, she’d say goodbye to her parents and move into her new in-laws’ home.
The problems started just a few months later, according to Rajput. Her in-laws told her the dowry her parents had paid was too small, even though they’d agreed on the amount beforehand, and demanded a car plus 2 lakh rupees, or about $4,500 at that time. Rajput’s parents worried that if they didn’t pay, their daughter’s in-laws would retaliate. Rajput’s mother mortgaged their farm and sold off small items, including groundnuts, rice, and gram flour. When they demanded even more and her mother couldn’t pay, Rajput says her in-laws began beating her, leaving bruises on her body, and the men in the family made unwanted advances.
Then, in August 2009, after months of escalating abuse, her in-laws poured kerosene over her to send a clear message to her family: If they didn’t pay the new dowry, she would be set on fire. After that incident, Rajput says that her family called the police, whom they had to bribe and who did little to help. When her in-laws found out, they ousted her, and Rajput returned home to her parents’ village. Her family lived in a small brick house, the interior decorated with newspapers cut into patterns like lace. Outside, cows and goats lazily grazed. It was a comfortable place, but Rajput knew that if she stayed there without her husband, people would start to talk. Divorce was not an option in her village — a woman without a husband was as good as dead. Rajput had to find some way of getting her in-laws to stop beating her and Kumar to take her back.