Mallika Dutt

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Mallika Dutt at the World Economic Forum on India 2012

Mallika Dutt (born March 29, 1962) is an Indian-American human rights activist, cultural entrepreneur and lawyer by training. Dutt is founder, president and CEO of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization that uses the power of media, pop culture, and community mobilization to promote human rights values. Dutt has twice been named one of Verve's Top 50 most influential women[1] and has received multiple awards in recognition of her human rights activism. Dutt is also a co-founder of Sakhi for South Asian Women, and sits on the advisory boards of several other human rights, multimedia and philanthropic organizations.

Early life and education[edit]

Dutt was born in Kolkata, India in 1962, and grew up in Kolkata and Mirzapur. At the age of 18, she moved to the United States to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs at Mount Holyoke College. Dutt has credited her time at Mount Holyoke with providing political shape to her personal interest in human rights. "Mount Holyoke was a turning point in my life. The sense of rebellion I had as a girl … found a language at Mount Holyoke."[2]

Dutt received a Masters in International Affairs and South Asian Studies from Columbia University in 1986, and graduated with a Juris Doctor from New York University Law School in 1989. In May 2012, Dutt received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Mount Holyoke College.



In 2000, while working as a Program Officer at the Ford Foundation, Dutt founded Breakthrough with Mann ke Manjeeré: An Album of Women's Dreams, an album and music video on women’s rights. “After working inside the global human rights movement for most of my professional life, the experience of seeing the same faces at every meeting, policy brief or conference had left me frustrated … The more I thought about it, the more convinced I’d become that media, art and popular culture could express these [human rights] values in new ways for new audiences.”[1] Launched as an experiment in using pop culture and media for social justice, Mann ke Manjeeré remained on the Indian pop charts for six weeks, going on to win the 2001 National Screen Award in India for best music video.

On using pop culture tools to promote human rights, Dutt later said, “[I]nspired by Eleanor Roosevelt’s conviction that human rights ‘begin in small places, close to home,’ I began to imagine ways to bring the conversation out of closed meeting rooms and into the living rooms of real people.”[1]

Working from centers in India and the United States, Breakthrough addresses global issues including violence against women, sexuality and HIV/AIDS, and immigrant rights and racial justice. Breakthrough has launched 13 campaigns on issues ranging from domestic violence to racial justice and immigrant rights, including America 2049, a transmedia game for Facebook that addresses democracy and diversity in the United States; Bell Bajao!, a domestic violence awareness campaign calling on men and boys to act as partners in ending violence against women; Restore Fairness, a documentary series and blog on immigration and racial justice in the United States; and What Kind of Man Are You?, about HIV/AIDS and condom use.

Early career and activism[edit]

Sakhi for South Asian Women[edit]

In 1989, while studying for the bar exam in New York, Dutt co-founded SAKHI for South Asian Women, an organization providing community support to end violence against women of South Asian origin. SAKHI creates a safe space for education and other support services, while also engaging a broader South Asian community against domestic violence. At SAKHI, Dutt was both an organizer and an advocate, training volunteers and developing initiatives and also advocating for law and public policy in support of immigrant rights and the rights of undocumented women.

Debevoise & Plimpton[edit]

Dutt began her career at Debevoise & Plimpton, a prominent international law firm in New York City. While employed at Debevoise & Plimpton, Dutt also did independent pro bono work on reproductive and immigrant rights, and established a network of lawyers to represent battered women.

Norman Foundation and Hunter College[edit]

From 1992-1994, Dutt worked as a director at the Norman Foundation, a New York-based organization supporting efforts of communities to determine their own economic, environmental and social well-being. While working at the Norman Foundation, Dutt also taught a course at Hunter College titled “Women and the Law.”

Rutgers University Center for Women’s Global Leadership[edit]

Dutt served as the Associate Director of Rutgers University, Center for Women’s Global Leadership from 1994 -1996. In this role, Dutt directed the Center’s contributions to UN World Conferences including Hearings and Tribunals at World Summit on Social Development, International Conference on Population and Development, and World Conference on Women. Dutt also conceived and crafted the widely referenced “With Liberty & Justice for All: Women's Human Rights in the United States,” a handbook providing a conceptual framework for using human rights as a legal and popular education tool as well as for political mobilizing among women activists.

Ford Foundation[edit]

Dutt served as Program Officer for Human Rights at the Ford Foundation in New Delhi from 1996 to 2000. Dutt initiated the Foundation’s work in police reform and forged partnerships among police, NGOs, and civil society groups. During her time at the Ford Foundation, Dutt also developed initiatives and communication among Ford Foundation offices across the globe.

Boards and committees[edit]

Dutt has served on several boards and committees, including:

  • Board of Directors, Peace is Loud 2014
  • Board of Advocates, Planned Parenthood Federation of America 2014
  • Global Agenda Council on India, World Economic Forum 2014
  • Board of Directors, Public Interest Projects Funder Collaborative 2013
  • Advisory Board, Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Fund 2013
  • Board of Directors, Public Interest Projects 2012
  • U.S. Programs Board, Open Society Foundations 2011
  • Global Agenda Council on Human Rights, World Economic Forum 2011
  • Regional Agenda Council on India, World Economic Forum; current focus on governance and transparency 2010 – 2011
  • Advisory Board, Games for Change 2011
  • Board of Directors, WITNESS: video and technology for human rights 2001 – 2011
  • Member, Council on Foreign Relations 2011
  • Advisory Committee, Human Rights Watch Asia 2011
  • Visiting Social Activist, Twink Frey, Center for the Education of Women, University of Michigan Spring 2009
  • Scholar in Residence, Human Rights Program, The College of New Rochelle, School of Arts and Sciences Spring 2002
  • International Advisory Committee, Association for Women’s Rights in Development Conference, Reinventing Globalization, Mexico 2002
  • Social Action Committee, 2002
  • Visiting Scholar, Center for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University 2001
  • Member, New Delhi Lt. Governor Committee on Public Police Relations 2000
  • Board of Directors, Asian American and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, APPIP 1996 – 1998
  • Board of Directors, Sister Fund 1995 – 1998
  • Advisory Committee, Human Rights Watch - Women’s Rights Project 1991 – 1996
  • Committee on Sex and Law, Association of the Bar of the City of New York 1990 – 1992

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Lipman Family Prize, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania 2014
  • 50 Fearless Minds Changing the World, Daily Muse, 2013
  • International Humanitarian Award, Yo Dona (Spain), 2013
  • Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters, Mount Holyoke College, 2012
  • Distinguished Service, Diversity & Progress Award, South Asian Law Students Association of New York Law School, 2010
  • Karmaveer Puraskar: National Award for Social Justice & Citizen Action, Indian Confederation of NGOs, 2009
  • American Courage Award, Asian American Justice Center, 2009
  • Trailblazer Award, South Asians in Media Marketing Association (SAMMA, 2008
  • The Woman of Color, Woman of Courage Award, IUP Women’s Studies Program, 2008
  • Award for Distinguished Service, New York University School of Law BLAPA Alumni Association, 2006
  • Spirit of Asian America Award Asian American Federation of New York, 2003
  • Phoenix Award, New York Asian Women’s Center, 2002
  • National Citizen’s Award (India) for contribution to women and development, 2001
  • South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) Annual Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to the South Asian Community, 2001
  • Public Interest Law Foundation Alumni Award, NYU Law School, 1991


  1. ^ a b c Verve’s 50 Power Women 2009,
  2. ^ Rao, Vinodini (September 2001). "Activist Mallika Dutt's Dreams Take Wings". SAVVY. 

External links[edit]