Fourteen-year-old Rekha Kalindi, who lives in an eastern India village roiled by starvation and underdevelopment, has never watched India's screen divas portray empowered women in lavish Bollywood movies.
Living in a mud hut on one meal a day, Rekha this year made a long journey by train from this obscure hamlet in West Bengal to India's prosperous capital, New Delhi — where she was feted by the country's first female president, Pratibha Patil.
The act that brought her fame: Rekha said "no."
The girl said "no" to her parents when they arranged her marriage at age 13 last year, an audacity that sent ripples throughout a region where girls had never got up courage to defy their elders.
"My sister Jyotsna, now 16, got married at 12 and has already had four dead babies. She now lives with her second husband because the first one left her. Still, my parents wanted me to also get married, but I said no, I want to study. They finally agreed," Rekha said.
She became an icon overnight in the region as the story of her defiance spread.
In India's rural areas, steeped in tradition and seared by poverty, girls are revolting against early, arranged marriages with support from some government officials and international aid groups such as UNICEF, which is setting up schools for child laborers to make them aware of their rights to break a rife but outlawed practice.
Forty percent of the world's child marriages occur in India, and 78,000 young Indian women die in childbirth and from pregnancy complications each year, according to UNICEF.
In other villages in the same Purulia district, teenage girls like Ahalya Kumar have said no, emboldened by what Rekha did.
"I will not marry before I turn 19. I want to be educated first and then take my own decision. I want to live a healthy life," said Ahalya, who has three siblings.