Citation for Mallika Dutt

Honorary degree recipient


(Video of Dutt's acceptance speech)

Mallika Dutt, human rights activist, global citizen, thought leader, cultural entrepreneur, and proud daughter of Mary Lyon: you left your native Kolkata in 1979 to come to Mount Holyoke, where you found your voice and launched your project of making the world more just.

After receiving your degree in international relations in 1983, you earned a law degree from New York University and began a legal career at Debevoise and Plimpton in New York. Pulled by your passion for human rights, you moved into foundation work, first at the Norman Foundation, then at the Rutgers University Center for Women’s Global Leadership, and finally at the Ford Foundation’s office in New Delhi. There, as Program Officer for Human Rights and Social Justice, you launched the Ford Foundation’s work in police reform, forging partnerships among police, NGOs, and civil society groups.

In 2001, you founded Breakthrough, a global human rights organization based in New York and New Delhi that is one of today’s most innovative and effective leaders in social and cultural transformation. You have reinvented the delivery of social change through a powerful mix of stirring multimedia campaigns, cutting-edge pop culture, and on-the-ground community engagement, all deployed to promote values of equality, dignity, and justice. Your pioneering approach has earned praise and awards not only in the global human rights community, but also in the media, entertainment, and technology industries. Focused with burning intensity on such issues as women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, HIV/AIDS, and racial justice, Breakthrough meets people where they live.

An example is a campaign called “Ring the Bell,” introduced by Breakthrough in India. Imagine that any time you or someone in your community overheard a neighbor abusing his wife, daughter, or mother, you rang their doorbell. You asked for the time, or you asked for a glass of water, or you asked anything at all. What matters is that you interrupted an act of violence. Breakthrough commissioned a series of award-winning television advertisements to engage men and boys in this fight against victimization of women, reaching an estimated 130 million people in India alone and raising by 50 percent awareness about a problem normally kept behind closed doors, doors that have bells that anyone can ring. The breakthrough is to cast men and boys as key to the solution, engaged not as perpetrators but as partners.

On this side of the Atlantic, another campaign is “America 2049,” a transmedia Facebook game that explores assumptions about racial justice, human rights, migration, and democracy. As one reviewer said, “America 2049 hits that sweet spot where sci-fi nerd-dom and social activism meet: the dystopian future genre. Don't want things to get bad later? Then fix things now."

For your innovative, entrepreneurial, community-anchored, and soaringly effective approach to “fixing things now,” Mount Holyoke is proud to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.