It is the life story of an 11 year old who stood up against parental pressure for child marriage and inspired the nation with her bravery. The Strength To Say No is the story of brave heart, Rekha Kalindi, who at that tender age refused to get married and fought for her right to study further.
REKHA KALINDI was born in a remote village in Bengal, 100 miles from Kolkata. Since her story was revealed, she has traveled all over India to speak and her international profile continues to grow. She is the recipient of India’s National Bravery Award. We chat with the author on her story, her inspiration to write this book and her views on child marriage. Excerpts from an interview with Varun Vazir:
Tell us a little about your struggle against child marriage. How did you fight back?
My parents wanted me to get married when I was eleven. However, I had made up my mind that I would not do that. I had seen my sister get married at the age of eleven. She faced complications at childbirth and her children did not survive beyond a few months or years. I did not want to go down that path. I spoke to my teachers at school and one of them in particular took up my cause. He came to my house to meet my parents and make them understand why I should not be married off so young. My friends too stood by me. It was a difficult time for me, but I’m glad I made that decision.
What was your inspiration behind writing this book?
To tell my story so that more and more girls like me can get the strength to say no and explore the possibilities that life has to offer.
Do you think this book will help reduce child marriage in India?
Yes, I hope so. In fact, I believe that it is already making a difference. I have heard that teachers are encouraging their girl students to be strong and take a stand just like I did. Young girls congratulate me on the book and the fact that I went against my family and society in refusing child marriage.
What steps should be taken according to you to stop child marriage and create more awareness?
There should be awareness programmes and group meetings for young girls where this issue can be discussed. In schools, teachers should take the lead and educate girls about the pitfalls of early marriage and the need to stand up against it. Parents need to be made aware because most often that is where the pressure comes from.
What would your message be to the women who are suppressed by men at various strata?
Stand up for your rights and believe in yourself. They should make their parents and elders understand that they need to be educated and stand on their own feet, and then think about marriage.
Do you think Child Labor as an issue is equally important that needs a voice?
Yes, definitely. If families send their children to work, it is because the hardship they are suffering is so intense that this is the only way out. The government needs to step in and help out such families. Society needs to come together to root out this evil.
What do you think of the portrayal of women in our society?
Women are not given the respect they deserve. But sometimes the girls themselves don’t want to study and make a life for themselves, which is unfortunate.
What is one advice you’d give to all the young girls?
Don’t give in to societal pressure. Put up a fight and you will get all the support you need. Educate yourselves, try to get jobs and become independent.