#StrengthToSayNo: This viral hashtag is a battlecry for equality

Rekha Kalindi, an 11-year-old girl born in a remote Indian village, made headlines when she took the microphone at a school performance last year (knowing Bengal’s Minister of Labor was in the audience) and explained that she had experienced pressure from her family to marry and that she was refusing to be a child bride. As child sponsorship NGO Humanium reports, Rekha’s speech told the story of her sister who was married as a child and has already given birth to four stillborns.

Rekha received an education courtesy of the National Child Labour Project, which partners with UNICEF to give kids like Rekha a chance for a brighter future by paying for their education. It was at school that Rekha learned about her rights, and decided against being married off by her parents at an extremely young age.

Rekha’s speech quickly caught on with the media, and when Rekha returned to her home, her mother reportedly beat her for speaking out against child marriage, and then proceeded to starve Rekha and prevent her from returning to school.

With the help of a teacher and the Ministry of Labor, Rekha was able to escape her home and return to school. Her courage has become the inspiration behind the hashtag #StrengthToSayNo. As Buzzfeed reports  publisher Penguin Random House is publishing Rekha’s story in a book entitled, yes, you guessed it, The Strength to Say No. To bring awareness to the issue, Penguin Random House collaborated with new media site Better India to spread the word by having people take photos of themselves holding poster boards expressing their views on the subject of child marriage.

Since the hashtag began, it’s taken on a life of its own, and is now being used to comment on other social issues in India as well.

We’re in awe of Rekha’s heroism, and are so grateful to this incredible girl and her incredible courage for sparking the conversation her country needs to have so that awareness can be raised and change can occur.

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[Images via Facebook/Twitter]