Purva Naresh’s powerful new drama is enabled by Arts Council England’s Reimagine India and has been two years in development, including time spent in India with Sampat Pal, founder and leader of the Gulabi Gang. Identified by their bright pink saris, its 400,000 members fight for women’s and human rights.
The play is based on the true story of Pal’s pursuit of justice for Sheelu, a 17-year runaway brutally raped by a married man, whose wife is in denial. Syreeta Kumar plays Sampat – a woman unafraid to challenge anyone – with utter authenticity. Fierce, driven, almost feral in her behaviour, she’s a woman not to be messed with in the turmoil of India’s dark politics and enduring caste system.
The play spares no detail and pulls no punches. The strong-branched tree that dominates the set is gallows material. There’s a shocking episode where the perpetrator of the rape vents his fury by grinding a doll into the ground.
And the women, in need of liberation but with life-and-death choices to make, can be their own worst enemies. “We are so full of shit,” says the woman police officer who has had to connive at the rape concealment. “We make a revolution. But only if others follow,” Sampat cries in frustration.
It’s harrowing. But there is triumph too and gentle comedy, a sometimes teasing portrait of rural women. And actions such as the slow and timeless pleating of one woman’s sari by another create moments of pure beauty.