Cyberspace provides new ground to young social activists

By Azera Rahman, IANS,

New Delhi : A young woman “rings the bell” to stop domestic violence, a group of college students makes a documentary redefining feminism while yet another group of management students post a video blog on gender issues. An NGO’s campaign on social issues has the youth buzzing with new ideas.

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Taking care to keep a safe distance from preachy messages – a sure way to turn off youth – and creating interesting advertisements instead for campaigns on social issues which immediately strike a chord, Breakthrough, a human rights network, has been making waves amongst the youngsters.

Christina Lobo Jha, for instance, decided to emulate their ad on stopping domestic violence after she couldn’t bear to hear the helpless cries of a woman in her building, even as the rest of the neighbourhood kept mum.

“Last week I heard the fight start at 8 a.m. and she (the victim) screamed and cried as the fight went on. By 2 p.m. she was moaning and groaning on her own in the toilet as her hubby and her two 19-year-old kids went to college.

“At 8 p.m. her husband was back home and after a while it started all over again,” Jha recounted the horror which the “Jain lady” – as she decides to call the victim – goes through every other day.

“Enough was enough. I got up and marched up to her door with my dog Kelly and rang the bell. She opened the door and pulling up her cardigan’s sleeves, said ‘see what they are doing to me’. I wiped her tears and told her to stop crying since the whole building was listening to her.

“Her husband shooed my dog out and told me not to interfere. The cries have stopped since then and I just hope that it remains that way,” she said.

“Bell Bajao”, Breakthrough’s initiative to stop domestic violence has caught on greatly with youth who are drawn towards the simplicity of the campaign.

“‘Bell Bajao’ is a very do-able campaign. All that we are asking is that if you are a witness to domestic violence and can hear the person’s cries, go and ring their door bell. That momentary halt will make the perpetrator realise that others maybe aware of his act and think about it,” Kritika Dey, programme coordinator of Breakthrough, told IANS.

Since the advertisement of this campaign shows only men, it sends out the message that even in women’s issues like domestic violence, men are important stakeholders and therefore should be involved in such campaigns.

“We at Breakthrough try and explore youth spaces which have not yet been fully explored. Our website is one example of that. Here you will see a number of blog posts, video clips and the likes by college students and others on what they think about such issues and even give suggestions to improvise campaigns,” Dey said.

In a bid to get closer to youth, Breakthrough is also present in popular social networking sites like Facebook and

In yet another example of youth participation, a group of women from Miranda House college of Delhi University made a documentary, “Female Gaze”, and posted it on Breakthrough’s website.

The film, which records women of different cultural backgrounds talking of their perception of the gendered nature of public and private spaces, got a huge response.

Read a comment from a reader called Prasoon: “Well said (about men having) ‘Self assumed roles’. Why should men want to protect women? And protect from what? Everyone should take care of themselves unless physically or mentally disabled”.

Working through television, music, films, social networking and public forums, Breakthrough works on various issues like HIV/AIDS, immigration policy, community leadership and human rights education.

“Some of our other campaigns were ‘Mann ke Manjeree’, a music album that we produced in 2000 whose songs were sung by Shubha Mudgal. We also made award-winning music videos on domestic violence and HIV/AIDS which were translated into six international languages.

“Then there was ‘What kind of a man are you?’ which was a multimedia campaign on HIV/AIDS and then ‘Is this Justice?’ which was about women facing discrimination because of HIV/AIDS,” Dey said.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at [email protected] )