Bharti Kher may have unleashed the potential of bindis as a medium in Indian contemporary art expression, but a new social activist group is now making the simple beauty accessory its own “symbol of soft protest" against child marriage.

Last month, the No Child Brides movement and non-governmental organization Child Survival India (CSI) unveiled an interactive art piece at the India Habitat Centre (IHC) in the Capital. The artwork, made with 39,000 white bindis—a bindi each for the 39,000 underage girls who get married every day around the world—pictured a 15-year-old from Jharkhand who is resigned to the fact that she will be wed before she turns 18.

Started by Prakhar Jain, Sumit Sond and Nikhil Guha—three communications designers at advertising agency Havas Worldwide, New Delhi—the No Child Brides campaign is raising funds to enable the New Delhi-headquartered CSI to conduct child marriage intervention programmes and health awareness camps in 160 villages.

We spoke to Jain about the campaign and how it all started. Edited excerpts:

How did ‘No Child Brides’ begin?

In September 2013, we came across an article on the front page of a newspaper titled “India Shames its Daughters on a Global Stage". It was about the United Nations Human Rights Commission’s (UNHRC’s) first-ever global resolution on ending child marriage. It stressed that all countries must make ending child marriages a part of their development agendas. And surprisingly, India, home to 40% of the world’s child brides, chose not to commit to it.

That news didn’t fly into newsrooms—it was just brushed under the carpet in a day. This general apathy bothered us. We thought there must be a way to make people talk about this issue. That is when we thought of making the white bindi a symbol of soft protest against this social evil.

Some of the data we’ve been using in our initiative—sourced from a 2012 UN report “Child Marriage in India"—shows that 47% of girls are married by 18 years, and 18% are married by age 15; also, the 24 million child brides in the country make for around 40% of child brides globally.

Are you using online as well as offline platforms?

We use art and fashion as a medium to spread awareness. We’ve taken the white bindi to the Lakmé Fashion Week 2014, Mumbai, with the support of Tarun Tahilianli and his entire crew.

We also knock on restaurant doors, do distribution initiatives at high-footfall areas like malls, go to colleges and art festivals with our bindis. Some of the places we’ve recently been to are the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai, Women’s Day at CyberHub Gurgaon, and many colleges across India like IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), Mumbai, Delhi College of Engineering, Nift (National Institute of Fashion Technology), Delhi, College of Art, Delhi, Great Lakes (Institute of Management), Chennai, etc.

At these places we gathered support from 39,000 people, which enabled us to now unveil our The White Bindi Art Project with an art installation (made of approximately 39,000 white bindis, each representing a supporter and the number of underage girls that are forced into marriage every day) at the IHC, Delhi, on 27 March.

We have also managed great numbers on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/NoChildBrides).

What do you plan to do with the money you raise?

Our process is simple. We sell white bindis and art made out of white bindis. With all the money and support we get, the CSI conducts Kishori Group Sessions in 160 villages across India. These sessions teach young girls the importance of not falling under the societal pressure around them. It teaches them life skills and also about the health consequences of an early marriage. And if need be, CSI workers also intervene by carefully interacting with, and convincing, parents to not get their child married at such an early age.

Another key step in ending child marriages is not looking at it as an isolated problem. It leads to more domestic violence, neonatal mortalities, rapes, women’s health issues and violation of human rights.

With the power of sheer numbers and voices, we plan to influence the influencers into making the right decisions—like supporting the UNHRC resolution, for instance.

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