Men are problem and solution to violence against women, says Breakthrough’s founder Mallika Dutt

I am in DNA of New Delhi

Milan Sharma


‘Mann ke Manjirey’ was the song that put a spotlight on violence against women in India and generated a dialogue. Mallika Dutt, founder of Breakthrough and the brainchild behind the song speaks to iamin about her relentless pursuit to create a gender sensitive environment.

Tell us about the genesis of Breakthrough in creating a dialogue on violence against women.
Breakthrough began as an experiment to explore how we could bring in more people to challenge violence against women in India. At the time, I was working for the Ford Foundation as a human rights program director. I was beginning to feel that many of us who worked on women’s rights issues were talking to the same people over and over. I began to experiment with the use of pop culture as a concept to spread the message. In 2000, we produced a music video called ‘mann key manjeere’ sung by Shubha Mudgal written by Prasoon Joshi. Initially, people thought that I was insane and that this wouldn’t work. When the music video won over 50 accolades, we realised that the experiment had become a success. Hence, I left Ford foundation to put energy into creating Breakthrough.

Why only focus on women/gender issues?
Gender intersects with all issues; it is not a category by itself. It is affected by everything and affects everything. Violence against women is also the largest pandemic in the world. I believe that the first place that human being create an ‘Us vs Them’ attitude is with women. The first objectification happens with women. Kids grow up watching the inequality in homes. There is a direct link between how we treat women and how we treat other marginalised communities. This creates a pathway for many other issues to be addressed.

What does Break Through seek to achieve?
We see ourselves as a global women’s rights organisation whose mission is to make violence against women and girls unacceptable. We call this generation of people, ‘The Breakthrough Generation’. We want to change the norms on which violence against women and children rests. And for change to come about, men have to be an active part of it, along with the media, government.

Did you face any resistance talking to communities about age old stereotypical attitudes?
When we started our work with women in various communities, we started a program called – ‘Aap kis tarha key aadmi hain?’ (What kind of a man are you?) We found out that a lot of them did not want to wear condoms while having sex with their wives. The women couldn’t tell them because they were afraid of violence being inflicted on them. They asked us and go and talk to the men. That is also how we started talking to Ogilvy and came up with a campaign called – Bell Bajaao (Ring the Bell), which became a huge success.

How did you promote the campaign to create a mass movement?
We feel that community engagement and leadership development is critical. So, we have to work at the community level to see how far the program works. With the Bell Bajaao (Ring the Bell) campaign, we have reached over 130 million people in India through the television, radio and video-vans. It was also a question on ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati?’ Even the Ministry of women and social justice came on board.

Which other areas of gender sensitization do you work in?
Our work has now expanded to address issues such as early marriage, gender bias and sex selection in Haryana, sexual harassment, sexual violence. We understand that when you tell people to be a part of the solution, as opposed to saying that you are the problem, there is a shift in engagement in their mind.

What is the latest campaign Breakthrough worked on?
In Delhi, we started a campaign called ‘Board the Bus’ in March, after the 16 December gangrape. We have been working with college kids and campuses asking them to ‘reclaim their public spaces.’ We also do a lot of bridge-building between service providers, government official and women who have been abused in states like Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand Haryana.

What is the current plan of action for Breakthrough?
We hope that millions of people in India and the world would become a part of the breakthrough generation who would say, ‘Enough is enough! This (violence against women) has to stop.’

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