Varanasi: On a summer afternoon, 20 women dressed in green sarees walk around in almost a straight queue in their village, Ramasipur. They have no baton in hand. But every time, these women get close to a bunch of men gambling under the shade of a tree, the men leave behind their cards and run for their lives. The women, then, pick those cards and tear them up.
“They fear us, they are scared of our uniform,” said Geeta, the leader of the ‘Green Group’ that was formed a year ago in Ramasipur, a village about 20 km away from the city of Varanasi.
The uniform she’s talking about is the green sari that they all wear when they are out on these checks.
Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea of adopting villages, a group of students of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith and other academic institutions in Varanasi decided to start an initiative to end social evils from the city’s villages. They knew they wouldn’t be able to do it single-handedly and needed the support of the residents. So, they approached the women.
“When we went to talk to these women, they refused to say anything. They directed us towards their husbands. They were scared to talk,” said Divyanshu Upadhyay, secretary of Hope Welfare Trust, the organisation that started the initiative.
Gradually, the women, most of them housewives, decided to join the battle. The training that continued for three months involved learning to write their own names, knowing about the brave women from the chapters of Indian history and learning martial arts.
“We got our strength from the training. We could talk to people without getting scared. It was their turn to get scared,” said Mamata, another member of the ‘Green Gang’.
The all-women group was first formed in 2015. Divyanshu remembers one particular incident when he and his friends were sitting on Assi ghat when they spotted a woman and her two children looking for food in the garbage. This incident made him the realise that poverty can make people helpless.
Along with his friends he decided to change the situation. His effort first showed results in Varanasi's Khushiyari village. It slowly spread to Jagadevpur, Bhadrasi, Deorah and reached Ramasipur.
In the last one year, the women have managed to end gambling and alcoholism in Ramasipur.
The students pool in pocket money to use it to for their training. "It's tough for us to keep this going with the finances," said Divyanshu.
Every day, these women walk around their village to check if things are in order. If they find men and children playing cards or drinking alcohol, they surround them. And then, tell them how they are affecting the lives of the people there. They begin with pleading and requesting them to give up their vices. However, sometimes, the men start getting violent. This is when they use their 'martial arts' training.
Impressed by their work, the Uttar Pradesh police designated them as 'Police Mitr'. "Whenever there's something they can't handle, they inform the police. The police consider them as 'friends'. So, they take action quickly," Divyanshu said.
In Ramasipur, they have already sent three people behind bars for domestic violence and gambling.
In the election season, these women play their dholaks and sing folk songs, urging people to vote. “Suna ho bhaiya, Suna ho behna, maan le tu hamaar kehna; voting ke din ghar mat rahna varna paanch saal padega sehna. Suna ho bhaiya, suna ho behna, sabke vote deveke kehna; Agar koi roke toke, 100 number par call karna,” goes one of the songs.
Being successful in removing alcoholism and gambling from their village, these women are working to keep the surroundings clean and helping in getting toilets build for every house.
"We want to live in a peaceful environment," 'gang' member Geeta said.