Remember the television ad that shows actor Boman Irani fixing his bike in a residential complex when he hears a couple fighting? There are signs of potential domestic violence. Irani goes and rings the bell and asks to use the phone. In the mean time, the phone in his pocket rings and he answers it.
The Bell Bajao! campaign, rolled out by human rights organization Breakthrough in 2008, was a resounding call to end domestic violence. Its message: don’t be a bystander; if you come across signs of domestic violence, intervene by ringing the bell and asking for an obviously unnecessary favour. They won the Silver Lion at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in June 2010 and weeks later, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon endorsed it as part of the UNiTE Campaign to End VAW (violence against women).
The following year, the campaign went global as a Clinton Global Initiative commitment. Bell Bajao! also won the Manthan award, started by the Digital Empowerment Foundation to recognize the best use of information and communications technology and digital tools for developmental purposes.
“The awards drew welcome attention to the campaign and the idea behind it,” says Sonali Khan, India director and vice-president of Breakthrough. Around the same time, Breakthrough also rolled out a rights advocates programme (RAP) for Bell Bajao! in 14 districts of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. The purpose was to create a local community for bringing in social change.
These advocates, called the “Breakthrough generation” by the organization, were trained to perform street theatre, hold public discussions and lead other activities to attract crowds.
“We wanted to use every possible medium to engage people,” says Khan.
After Bell Bajao!, Breakthrough has launched other campaigns to make women safer, including Asking For It. “We started work on sexual harassment two-and-a-half years ago; around the time that the law came into force. Here, too, our work is not around policy and law but around mindsets and people.”
In this series, we revisit past winners of the mBillionth and Manthan awards to understand the initiative’s progress