‘Thali’ gang on the prowl in Meerut – and the men better watch out!

‘Thali’ gang on the prowl in Meerut – and the men better watch out!

‘Thali’ gang on the prowl in Meerut – and the men better watch out!

‘Thali’ gang on the prowl in Meerut – and the men better watch out!

Kamal Bhargava

Meerut: When the banging noise of a spoon and ‘thali’ pierces the air in Meerut, it brings no joy to the listeners. For it no more heralds the birth of a male child - it rather shames the men guilty of sexual offences. A feisty group of women is reclaiming the streets of the city this way, armed only with the two small items and plenty of determination.

It was first the Everest twins, Nungshi and Tashi Malik, who turned on its head this common north-Indian practice of announcing the birth of a male by banging a steel plate (thali) with a spoon, when they celebrated their ascent over Mt Vinson in a similar fashion. Now the Thali gang of Meerut has just shredded the stereotypes further.

Comprising school girls to office-goers to housewives, this group of diverse women joined hands a year ago, on May 11, to fight sexual harassment, under the leadership of social activist Atul Sharma and school principal Neera Tomar.

Today, more than 100 members from Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut and Baghpat districts make up the gang, including 17 males!

They use street plays and public shaming campaigns to bring awareness of crimes against women. Often, the banging is done in front of the perpetrator’s house so that people know about his actions, and most recently, the Thali gang helped deliver justice to a minor girl who was molested by a relative.

State of Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh is often in the news for its surging crime graph, general lawlessness and rampant sexual offences, to which the state government under Yogi Adityanath responded by constituting the 'Anti-Romeo Squad’ to protect women. In spite of such novel measures, women remain unsafe. 

Enter the Thali gang, which also aims to jolt the government machinery into action. Explaining the gang’s modus operandi, activist Kadambari Kaushik said they keep an eye on incidents of assault against women. The next step is to visit the victim’s family and possibly meet the victim. Once all details are in, it is time for action.

“Usually people, especially the victim, are too afraid to seek police aid. There is a lot of social pressure. Our source of information is either a neighbour or close relative who wants their identity to remain secret,” said Kadambari. 

She added that “our second line of information is the media. They help us in finding such cases,” wondering that “if we and the media can find the victim, why can’t the police? There is something wrong with the system”.

The saddest part

The Thali gang’s findings have all revealed one thing – when it comes to involvement of family members or close relatives in rape or other sexual offences, saving the man is paramount for the kin. 

One of the first victims the gang helped was a 16-year-old girl from Noida’s Surajpur who had been raped by her paternal uncle and was pregnant. Yet, after numerous meetings with the family, no one was ready to file a complaint. Not just that, the family wanted the ‘chacha’ to be safe and was planning to give the child so born to one of the relatives.

“After many fruitless meetings, we decided to bang the thali on a crossing near the accused’s house, going by our usual line of action,” one Sanjog Sharma said.

“The response was beyond our imagination,” she added in elation. “We could soon make out the social boycott of the accused and got help in the form of volunteers. Not only this, people started sharing our contact numbers. Calls for help have just increased.” 

In a more recent incident, the Thali gang helped rescue a Class 10 girl aged around 16 years from the clutches of her married 38-year-old maternal uncle. She had been taken hostage by him three years ago and regularly molested. Despite verbal complaints to the police, the uncle managed to keep her with him mainly because of the family’s unwillingness to register a written complaint in the matter. 

“We ran from the SHO to SSP to commissioner, but no one came to our help. Then someone suggested about this gang and we contacted them. I have no words for them! Due to their efforts our girl is back home,” the victim’s mother Suman said.

Founders speak

According to Neera Tomar, her gang has taken up around 10 cases so far - six minor ones and four major cases. 

She revealed the hypocrisy of society and the harassment faced by women, often from known and trusted men. “I got this thought as the school principal, after hearing daily complaints from our girls. Then we decided to use the ‘thali’ as our weapon,” she said, adding that the biggest satisfaction was getting justice for innocent victims who were not even fully aware of the implications of the crime. 

According to her, the Thali gang has got a good response from security agencies and the police, especially the Baghpat Police are happy with the movement, which the women are set to take to other districts. 

“If a thali can be banged to inform about and celebrate the birth of a boy, then why can’t the same be done to alert friends and family and neighbours to men indulging in molestation?” asks Atul Sharma. “So, we decided to take a thali and spoon with us and use this ‘celebratory custom’ to stop assault against women.”

The gang, however, does get threats too and if often accused of working under someone’s influence by the perpetrator and his family. 

Rupal, 16, a first-year BTech student, bemoaned “the repeated sexual harassment faced by girls”, narrating that “I was the head girl at my school and used to get complaints of assault, especially from friends and family members. The teenage girls were afraid to share their plight with parents or teachers. Dealing with their cases, we got hands-on experience which was the turning point for us. We first started ‘Let me Speak’ and then the Thali gang”.

Of course, they are all proud of their movement. They are careful to never break any laws and regularly perform ‘nukkad nataks’ to raise awareness.

Meerut SP, crime, Shivram Yadav, said of the Thali gang: “Every citizen has the right to protest but within the limits of law. We came to know about the Thali gang and have no objection,” adding that “we are always ready to help and take swift action in cases of sexual crimes too”.


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