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The Bell Bajao—Ring the Bell Campaign in India

We’re entering the second week of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. As a part of the campaign, IntraHealth is publishing a series of blogs on violence against women.

I wanted to take this opportunity to share a story from my colleague, Mamta Pradhan, who told me about a family experiencing abuse in her ‘society.’ In India, apartments grouped together in a single complex are known as a building ‘society.’ She and others in the society used to regularly hear voices raised in anger, the crying of children, and screams of pain coming from a particular apartment. One night, hearing this commotion again, Mamta decided she needed to do something. She went up to the apartment where the noise was coming from and rang the bell. After some time, the man of the house opened the door and asked what she wanted. She calmly said, “Is something the matter? We can hear some noise. Can I help in any way?” The man looked embarrassed and said that nothing was the matter. After that, not only did the yelling stop, but whenever the man was out he bowed his head and would not look at Mamta.

Mamta’s story is reminiscent of India’s widely publicized Bell Bajao (Ring the Bell) Campaign, launched a couple of years ago and still going strong. The campaign capitalizes on the power of pop culture and the media to transform public attitudes on human rights violations in India, including violence against women. Breakthrough, an international human rights organization, runs the campaign and promotes the ideas that community intervention can stop domestic violence, and every individual has the power to help. Some of the campaign’s TV ads feature scenarios very similar to the one Mamta told me about, except in the ads the person who intervenes is a man or boy. This goal of engaging men[i] to act against the gender and health inequities and abuse is one of the strategies of the Bell Bajao campaign.

In many ways, the Bell Bajao! campaign has succeeded in bringing discussions and examinations of domestic violence into the public arena. It makes us identify with the neighborhood story that all of us have either been spectators to or sometimes actors in, and it provides a workable action, if not solution, to the issue. The campaign has gotten celebrities speaking out against violence through videos posted on the Breakthrough website. The website has information on the campaign going global, advocacy events in various cities in India, and the website promotes its video van outreach, which carries information and videos through a van to various cities. The website also offers resources on stopping and addressing violence including helplines, legal support, media, events, and trainings. The Bell Bajao! website also allows readers to share their own stories on the blog.

There are also other campaigns and organizations in India that focus on changing social norms and working with men to stop violence such as Men Against Violence and Abuse and the Centre for Health and Social Justice. For a number of years Oxfam has been running the We Can campaign in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Afghanistan. This campaign aims to recruit five million volunteer Change Makers and mobilize 50 million people to “bring about a sea change in attitudes towards women, and create a more fair and equal society in which women's voices are heard.”

[1] The Campaign has won the prestigious Silver Lion in the Film categoryat the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival 2010.