Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ring a bell, end the fight!

A UN report points out that one incident of violence in India translates to the victim losing seven working days. The report further says that violence against women puts a huge strain on the nation's social and legal services. Unfortunately, domestic violence is a part of every day, even accepted, reality in various households. For reasons of shame and family honour, many cases of domestic violence go unreported.

Breakthrough (India) has been working on the issue of violence against women since its inception in 2000. With the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) coming into force in 2005, they began discussing its implementation using mass media and mobilization as strategic tools. “We really wanted to create a campaign where we ask….here is a legal response, what about the social response?” notes Sonali Khan, the Country Director of Breakthrough.

Prior to the present decade of media campaigns, Mallika Dutt, Founder & CEO, recalls, “I have always felt that the language used in the human rights world does not reach the kind of wide-ranging audiences necessary to produce real change. A global conversation about human rights involves everyone--not just the usual suspects in the NGO circuit. I began questioning how to use more mainstream strategies to engage different people in conversation with accessible tools that really speak to their values.”

Their first successful experiment was "Mann ke Manjeere" - a music album on domestic violence starring Shubha Mudgal - which generated a lot of media coverage and reached huge audiences. Then came Bell Bajao – a social media campaign that urged people to “ring the bell” and bring domestic violence to a halt.

The highly popular campaign that aired on Doordarshan, private TV and radio channels, reached more than 130 million people and won prominent awards like the Gold for Best Integrated Campaign 2008 at the Goafest Abby Awards; the most recent one being the prestigious Silver Lion in the Film Category at the Cannes Lions 57th International Advertising Festival.

Did the unique media messaging strategy work? Urvashi Gandhi, Manager of the Community Leadership Program says, “Each case of domestic violence is very specific. You cannot apply one situation, copy paste it and put it on to the other. When people look for solutions and options to come out of it, they are looking for specific information. Media campaigns are just for sensitizing and creating awareness.

To further the reach of the campaign, video vans travelled to different towns and districts in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. The video vans engaged the audience through games, interactive discussions and quizzes besides airing the ad campaigns done pro-bono by Ogilvy & Mather. Recently, popular Bangalore based folk rock band Swarathama performed with the video van in Puttur, Karnataka.

It’s not just about the fun and games, clarifies Gandhi. The van is on a serious mission. “Lot of times there are queries and incidences of violence that people in the community would come and share with us. They ask us for information on what to do next”, she says.

The real success of the Bell Bajao campaign is easily rooted to the rights advocates who spread the message in their communities and mobilize individuals. “In one of the villages in UP, where we had taken the van, they just said point blank that domestic violence does not happen in this village. So please take the van out of here, you’re spoiling our women. In cases like these, we have trained people from the area who try and get the word around by having unofficial, informal talks rather than going to them as a video van.”

The whirlwind of difference the training programs have made to these individuals’ attitudes and lives is touching in their testimonies.

Suresh has been a Breakthrough Advocate since 2007 and a more prolific human rights activist, participating in street plays and travelling with the video vans across Karnataka. While he’s done much to sensitize the world outside, change for him always has begun at home. Over the last few years he has started helping out his mother and sister-in-law with household work. On his brother’s wedding day, he sang a song that translates to something like, “…the bride you’re marrying is just another person like you. You have to treat her as an equal. She also has a heart, she has aspirations. Don’t think you are marrying just a body. Beating up your wife is no indication of your masculinity. Don’t think of yourself as God and her as your slave…

Hina, a student in Lucknow who underwent the training said that earlier she used to be a very shy person, who could never talk about condoms, sexuality etc. But now she feels comfortable and confident. One of her relatives was a victim of domestic violence and she was unable to take any action against this because neither she had confidence nor any legal knowledge. Hina educated her relative and extended support along with other trained volunteers.

The campaign that has Boman Irani as its ambassador, looks at men as a part of the solution rather than as the problem. “Men can act as role models. It’s essential to engage them to act against violence for women in a more proactive and positive way which is not founded on guilt but more in terms of respect for women”, enumerates Khan.

At the end of the day however, the campaign is benefitting more women than men. “Very interestingly more number of women are actually ringing the bell. Because if you think about it, it’s a safer way for women to intervene”, she adds.

As a part of their 360 degree focus, in addition to digital mapping of resources, testimonials & video van routes of the PWDVA and a music video of Swarathama performing live with the video vans, they are pushing now to get more and more groups of people, influencers as well as gatekeepers, from the fashion industry to panchayats and the underprivileged to become a part of the campaign. “The word Bell Bajao has become very synonymous to taking action against what’s wrong” concludes Khan in a celebratory tone.

If this rings a bell for you, do ring a bell for someone else.
You can catch all the Bell Bajao ad campaigns on


Originally posted on 11th August, 2010 in The Alternative

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