The Strength to Say No: One Girl's Fight Against Forced Marriage

By Rekha Kalindi with Mouhssine Ennaimi

Translated by Sarah Lawson

Available from Peter Owen Publishers

 

Newly translated from the French by Sarah Lawson, The Strength To Say No: One Girl’s Fight Against Forced Marriage is an inspiring account by Rekha Kalindi of her refusal to accede to parental and cultural demands that, as a child, she should be forced to marry. A publishing sensation in France, and now published in English for the first time, Kalindi’s story and her advocacy of the rights of women and girls bears comparison with that of Nobel laureate and activist Malala Yousafzai.

Born in a remote Bengal village, well over 100 miles away from Calcutta, the nearest large city, eleven-year-old Rekha and her large family subsist by hand-rolling cigarettes. She observes the abrupt departure of her friends who marry and go to live with their mothers-in-law, often becoming little more than slaves. In spite of her youth, Rekha is aware of the harm done to these little girls. Inevitably, Rekha Kalindi’s turn comes. Her parents find a husband for her – a man she doesn’t know – and she flies into a blinding rage at the idea of being taken away from school for good and denied an education.

After persuading her parents not to marry her off against her will, Rekha goes from village to village to tell her story and to explain the tragic consequences of early marriages. Thanks to her, dozens of children in the region found the courage to say no to this tribal tradition. Her exemplary journey gained her the recognition of the highest courts in the land, and she went on to become a recipient of India’s National Bravery Award and an audience with the president.

Written with the collaboration of distinguished Radio France correspondent Mouhssine Ennaimi, The Strength To Say No, translated from Ennaimi’s acclaimed French edition, is a documentary portrait of one girl’s monumental struggle and an inspiring story to young women all over the world.

Rekha Kalindi was born into a poor family in a village in West Bengal in 1997. From a young age she was obliged to give up her education to work and help bring in money to feed her family. Going back to school with the assistance of the Indian National Child Labour Project, she became a model pupil. However, at the age of eleven her parents said they had found her a husband. She staunchly opposed this, flying in the face of age-old custom and bringing her into conflict with her family. Only through the intervention of her teachers and the Minister of Labour of West Bengal was she able to continue her schooling. Since her story became known she has become a voice for millions of young people in India denied the opportunity to receive an education and have a proper childhood. She now travels all over India to speak, and her international profile continues to grow. Her story was one of only twenty (that of Anne Frank and Malala Yousafzai were two others) included in a book called, in English, Children Who Changed the World published to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and she is the recipient of India's National Bravery Award.

Mouhssine Ennaimi is a distinguished correspondent for Radio France, widely acknowledged as a specialist on India. His posting to South Asia led to a meeting with Rekha Kalindi and their collaboration on this book.