A young single mother, who was leading Bandhan Tod, a campaign against the rampant social evil of child marriage in Bihar to save the future of young girls, is now breaking her own shackles to take on the United Nations in a fight for justice.
Prashanti Tiwari, the manager of Gender Alliance, which attracted international attention on empowerment of young girls through Bandhan Tod strategy has alleged harassment from senior United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) staff in India, including UNFPA India Chief Diego Palacios.
The 30-year-old in her petition to Union Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has requested to waive off the immunity to them in India in order for her to try them in the Indian Court.
“I am filing this petition before your good-self to enable me to seek justice through waiving off the immunity granted to Mr Diego Palacios, UNFPA India Representative, Ena Singh (Assistant Representative, UNFPA India), and Pallavi Kumar (UNFPA India)," Prashanti wrote and added, "the immunity granted to the aforementioned UNFPA staff under the privileges and immunities of United Nations is impeding my Indian constitutional rights for a fair judicial trial on the gross misconduct, harassment with the intention to outrage my modesty and criminal conspiracy by them.”
She asked Swaraj for her ‘personal attention’ on this issue “as being an Indian Women you can understand my pain and trauma. I look forward to your support in this circumstances and have faith that you will protect my rights granted to me under the Indian Constitution and that the might of United Nations will not come in my way towards justice.”
Rajiv Chandran, the National Information Officer of the United Nations Information Centre for India and Bhutan when approached for his reaction over the petition had earlier said, that he had not got the document yet and would be happy to react if he got the said petition. But despite the petition being forwarded to him and repeatedly being contacted for a reply, Chandran has maintained complete silence.
Bandhan Tod gained immense attraction and was gaining popularity in Bihar with young girls reaching out to the campaign to save them from their early marriages. The movement was also acknowledged by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar when he had felicitated Rinki Kumari who used Bandhan Tod to defy her early marriage. Bandhan Tod was the brainchild of Prashanti and being the face of Gender Alliance, she was highly respected amongst the people from all walks of life for raising the issue of empowerment of young girls.
"No one is above the law of our Land," said Prashanti.
"The UNFPA erratically discontinued funding to Gender Alliance without due notice in contravention of contractual norms, directed to suspend the Bandhan Tod Application without any reason and conspired with an NGO to destroy my professional career," she said on Monday.
Prashanti has also written a strong and powerful e-mail to the UNFPA India chief Diego Palacios, which has chronologically mentioned how she has been harassed and how Palacios has been assassinating her character. "When I strongly objected to the treatment meted out to me, I was offered consultancy whose offer was never sent to me but to an NGO, who replied on my behalf that I am not accepting the offer. This Bihar based NGO and UNFPA had colluded in a meeting held on January 24, 2018, and on the promise of funding by UNFPA my ouster was negotiated".
She further wrote, "In a meeting in Delhi last month my character was assassinated with blatant lies and I was talked about as a characterless woman by you. Diego, please note that I am a single mother but I am not available to anyone. I do have a respect, dignity and a character".
Prashanti has written to the Office of President and Prime Minister of India and is "quite hopeful" of them as they have in past championed the cause of women. "Diego Palacios and UNFPA should know that being a single mother does not mean I can be harassed, abused and my character can be a talking point for them. For a woman, her pride and self-respect is everything," she said.
In her petition for justice addressed to Sushma Swaraj, she said, "Palacios mentioned that I know too much about UNFPA staff and have evidence against them for harassing me and for religious intolerance as was mentioned to him by Carol who led the said HR Mission. Palacios, also made extremely shameful comments on my physical features, laughed about my circumstances of being a single mother at such young age and said that he does not care how his comments and plan would hurt me. He repeatedly said that he has all powers and until he brings me down to my knees, he will not relax."
She also wrote that she was being penalized for deposing before the HR Mission commissioned by UNFPA, wherein she had provided evidence of various wrongdoings, misconduct by UNFPA staff, including religious intolerance, conspiracies on sexual harassment and outraging her modesty and character assassination. She said that neither the said report nor her statements were being shared with her and Palacios is turning her evidence against her to protect his inefficiency, wrongdoings and those of his staff.
“I am under tremendous mental torture and harassment. If the justice is not provided to me, I would be committing suicide with my three-year-old child in front of the Bihar Assembly,” she said.
Gender Alliance is planning a March for Solidarity in support of Prashanti in Patna and has petitioned the UN Secretary-General to sack Diego Palacios.
Earlier, Prashanti has been awarded by the Governor of Meghalaya for initiating and scaling Bandhan Tod Campaign for helping adolescent girls in Bihar to fight social evils.