Celebrating 20 years of Breakthrough.
  • 1999

    Babul Music Video.

    In the music video, ‘Babul’ a little girl holds up a mirror to society which often ignores the uncomfortable conversation around domestic violence. Through the eyes of a little girl, the video threw light on the double standards our society thrives on, with the aim to make the issue of domestic violence both mainstream and urgent to address.

  • 2002

    Hamman Hai Ishq.

    An exhibition- concert, a showcase of music of Shubha Mudgal supported by the digital art and paintings of Haku Shah, Hamman Ishq Hai (That love is all there is) was an event hosted at the India Habitat Center to revisit and revive the spirit of communal harmony and religious pluralism and communal harmony which is intrinsic to the fabric of our country.

  • 2003

    Baagon Na Jaa.

    A story of the friendship of Muslim boy and a Hindu schoolteacher, set the music of Shubha Mudgal based on a poem by poet Kabir, Baagon Na Jaa was a music video about Communal Harmony, and bond that transcend religious differences.

  • Tri-Continental Film festival.

    We sought out to tell stories from around the world, to help drive our messages of social justice, human rights and advocacy. Through this festival, we aimed to build awareness, mobilise public engagement and start crucial conversations about the issues we encounter in our everyday environment.

  • 2005

    What kind of man are you?.

    This campaign did the unique task of placing a gender lens on the debate around HIV/AIDS. It urged men to reflect on their choices with regards to safe sex, nudging them to take responsibility for their partners’ sexual health and becoming a part of the solution. It also spoke to women with the aim to help them negotiate condoms as a means to protect themselves.

  • 2007

    Is this Justice?.

    Our multimedia campaign, ‘Yeh Kaisa Insaaf Hai?’ focused on women living with HIV/AIDS and highlighted the irony of them facing discrimination due to an infection they contracted from their male partners. From being shunned from society, rendered jobless, homeless and vulnerable to abuse. With multilingual print, radio and TV ads created pro bono by Ogilvy and Mather’s Piyush Pandey, our campaign threw light on the inequality that plagues women, both in health and in sickness.

  • 2008

    Bell Bajao.

    Domestic violence is considered a ‘personal matter’. Events that transpire behind closed doors carry on without the fear of accountability. Our “Bell Bajao” campaign aimed to inch away from this status quo, pushing boys and men to ‘ring the bell’ and interrupt incidents of abuse. We created a series of award-winning PSAs, which have been viewed by over 130 million people worldwide. In 2010, our video van took the messages to cities and villages engaging communities through street theatre and games.

  • 2011

    Nation Against Early Marriage.

    Our work on domestic violence led us to our work on early marriage, recognising that women who were married at a young age, were the most vulnerable to abuse. Our programme was followed by the 2013 UNHRC’s resolution against child, forced and early marriages to eliminate it as a part of the post-2015 Global Development Agenda.

  • 2012

    Mission Hazaar.

    In urgent response to the fast-falling sex ratio - 919 girls per thousand boys in India, we launched the #MissionHazaar campaign. During our work on domestic violence, we found that many women were forced to go in for sex-selective abortions by family members, given the lack of agency they experienced in their lives. The need to address this issue was echoed by the Government of India which adopted our campaign as a part of the 2015 Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign.

  • #AskingForIt and #ShareYourStory.

    As we raged angrily, heartbroken about the Nirbhaya rape case, we took on the debate of victim-blaming, channelling our outrage into transformational conversations. #AskingForIt, a phrase often used for victim shaming in cases of sexual harassment and assault, was overturned to become an urgent resounding call to action for bystander intervention. With our #ShareYourStory campaign, we asked women to share their stories of harassment with their sons as a tool to develop empathy in the young men of our society, urging them to reflect on their behaviour.

  • 2016

    Skoll Award.

    In 2016, Breakthrough were recognised by the Skoll Foundation for our dedicated and consistent work on the issue of early marriage as well as the reinforcement of positive norms. The award was received by Mallika Dutt and Sonali Khan of Breakthrough, who used the platform to highlight how the most vulnerable sections of the society, such as schoolgirls, are also the most overlooked.

  • 2016

    Nari Shakti Puraskar.

    When your work gets the right sort of attention, you know you’re on the right track. In 2016, Breakthrough was the recipient of India’s highest civilian award for recognising the achievements and contributions of women, which it received under the category of ‘The Rani Lakshmi Bai Award for Best Institution for Research & Development in the field of women empowerment’ from the then president of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee.

  • 2016


    Harassment isn’t limited to our physical surroundings. With our youth campaign #StandWithMe, we took on the issue of online harassment, sensitising communities about the need for an empathetic safe space online - free of judgment or intimidation. We stressed on dialogue and support for young people facing harassment, both online and offline and organised workshops and meetups to encourage digital literacy and creation of safe spaces online.

  • 2017

    StreeLink Programme.

    Gender-based violence needs to be addressed in the multiple spaces women inhabit. For women in the workforce, this meant addressing their homes, communities, workplace and public spaces. Violence and discrimination against women is a continuum which needs to addressed in all spaces they inhabit. Our StreeLink Programme works with various stakeholders to help alter perceptions and create a safe, secure workplace that upholds gender justice.

  • 2017

    JPAL Evaluation of Taaron ki Toli in Haryana.

    One of Breakthrough’s standout initiatives was the Taaron Ki Toli programme, where a gender sensitisation curriculum was implemented across 152 schools in Haryana, aimed at empowering students and communities to question gender norms. The curriculum was a success, with more girls being able to complete their education. Three years after its implementation, the programme was evaluated by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and indicated a significant shift in both Gender Attitude and Gender Behaviour Index for the students.

  • 2019

    Breakthrough turns 20! .

    From 1999 to 2019, Breakthrough finished two decades. This year, in particular, was marked by impressive results: according to the data from Jharkhand and Bihar Early Marriage programme, the age girls were getting married at increased by 1.77 years, a remarkable achievement! Refer to leena+ alok’s document

  • 1999

    Mann Ke Manjeere music video.

    Our breakthrough act was the music album and video “Mann Ke Manjeere” which tells the story of a domestic-violence survivor, Shameem Pathan. Through this song, we made the often-uncomfortable conversation about gender-based violence and discrimination both mainstream and urgent. The video won a National Award, was nominated as “MTV’s Best Indipop Music Video” and reached 26 million households via 6 satellite music TV channels across South Asia, Indonesia, Tajikistan and the United States.

  • 2010

    Cannes Lion for Bell Bajao.

    Breakthrough’s Bell Bajao! campaign against domestic violence won the Silver Lion in the Film Category at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival 2010. The Bell Bajao campaign’s media component was its most prominent and visible feature — a series of television, radio and print ads created pro bono by Ogilvy & Mather — which were widely disseminated through a partnership with the Indian Ministry of Women and Child Development. The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival is one of the world's most prestigious international advertising awards and winning the Silver Lion provided us with a global platform to spotlight violence against women and to ask men and boys to become partners in ending it.

  • 2016

    Adolescent Empowerment Programme.

    Adolescents and young people make up a critical part of the citizenry in our country. When we talk about making a gender-equal future for India, it is their future that we are talking about. With that in mind, in 2016, Breakthrough started it’s ‘Adolescent Empowerment Program’ (AEP) in Uttar Pradesh, which was supported by Ikea Foundation. We wanted to empower approximately 150,000 adolescents’ girls and boys aged 11-19 years to be able to do one important thing: ‘demand and access gender equity in health and education in their homes and community for themselves and others.’

  • 2021

    Generation Equality Forum.

    The Generation Equality Forum launched a 5-year action journey to achieve irreversible progress towards gender equality, founded on a series of concrete, ambitious and transformative actions, including $40 billion in financial commitments. Breakthrough was selected as a co-lead on the Gender Based Violence Action Coalition along with over 90+ other partners from across the globe. The leaders along with UN Women are expected to contribute, lead and catalyze collective action; spark global and local conversations among generations; drive increased public & private investment; deliver concrete; game-changing results for girls and women over the next 5 years across 6 thematic areas of concern.

Popular culture to counter culture .

“We start where people are, but don’t accept that culture is ever an excuse.” Mallika Dutt, Founder and President Emeritus, Breakthrough.

20 years ago, Breakthrough started its journey to change the narrative on violence against women and girls and other human rights abuse across India and US to create a world where everyone lived a life with dignity, equality and justice. Mallika Dutt, the founder of Breakthrough felt that human rights issues needed to be translated into a cultural context so that even those people who aren’t interested can be reached. How best can you reach them but through a music video? Promoted by Virgin Records, “Mann ke Manjeere” spoke about a woman who walks out of a domestic violence situation and becomes a truck driver, it became a dream where everything was possible. And for a long time after that, she and the production team were talking about women’s rights and violence against women in mainstream media.

It was this insight that built the foundation of Breakthrough – that if we do not transform the dominant culture around us, if we don’t challenge those values that uphold violence, discrimination and abuse, then we won’t be able to build a world we dream of and desire. One of our most successful campaigns, Bell Bajao, asked men and boys to take action against violence against women – not to ignore it, but to interrupt it. It tried to change the narrative where violence against women and girls is seen as a woman’s problem into one that is everybody’s problem. We did this work in India at two broad levels – we created compelling and cutting-edge mass media campaigns that reached a large number of people across the country and we engaged in grassroots mobilisation with young people and community leaders.

Bell Bajao went through the roof – it won close to 20 awards. It reached more than 130 million people via television, mass media, and video vans which traveled the country. Violence against women became a story line on three popular Bollywood soap operas. “Bell Bajao” was the answer to a question on India’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” TV programme. It was picked up in China, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Canada, among other countries.

But most importantly, a lot of men came up to us and said it’s the first time they’ve ever been invited into this conversation as part of the solution. It saw 49% rise in the awareness of the new domestic violence law that was passed in 2005 and it raised demands for services by 15%.

It was when we were doing the end-line of this campaign that we realised that women least equipped to combat domestic violence were the ones that were married off as young girls. This made us lower the age of our target group and we started working with adolescents in the 11-18 age group. We started big, worked with 18,000 girls and boys across 150 government schools across Haryana, one of the most gender regressive states in India. Armed with an impact evaluation of this programme by JPal at MIT, which saw significant changes in behaviour and attitudes not only among girls, but also among boys, we are now scaling up our work with adolescents, both in school and out of it to reach 400,000 of them currently.

We believe if we are to create a world where violence against women and girls are to become unacceptable, that we should concentrate on building this new leadership because the solutions that we need for our planet are going to emerge from this next generation of leaders. We at Breakthrough believe this is going to be the generation that finally makes violence against women and girls unacceptable. This is going to be the generation that will shift these old norms, attitudes and values and push society to see one another as human beings that deserve respect. This new generation will really think about how we can build a society, an economy and a world where human dignity is central to how we operate and move forward.

From a small group of committed people who began their journey in India, Breakthrough is growing – we are a team of over 140 people across 3 centres in India. We have a sister concern in the US that works on culture change by using a potent mix of media, arts, and tech with an inter-sectional feminist approach. We have a huge online voice in both the countries that fronts important issues in the lives of women and men in the 21st century. As the internet user-base grew, we realised our work on online violence against women and girls became critical especially in India. The solution we propose starts with creating safer spaces online and offline both for women and girls.

We want to reach 1 million adolescents with our programme on gender equity by 2023. It is with immense pride that I look back at all that we have achieved and all that we are going to achieve. And I feel confident that with Breakthrough we will be able to enable everyone to own the solutions and really participate to make changes; we will be able to work with everyone to make violence against women and girls unacceptable. I take this opportunity to thank each and everyone who has been our allies and partners throughout our journey. I also welcome you all to join us in our endeavor to make violence against women and girls unacceptable.

Sohini Bhattacharya,
President & CEO

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