Indian-American Human rights activist Mallika Dutt has won the American Courage Award for her human rights work in India and the United States. The 47-year-old activist, who grew up in Calcutta, will receive the award on October 1 from the Asian American Justice Center, a leading civil rights organisation in the country. “Its a huge honour getting an award from AAJC since they’re at the forefront of ensuring that the presence of the Asian-American community is not marginalised,” Ms. Mallika, who left for US at an age of 18, told PTI.
After finishing High School from Welham Girls School in Dehra Dun, she studied international relations at Columbia University, and law at New York University. In 1989, she co-founded ‘Sakhi’, an organisation that helps South Asian women suffering from domestic violence in New York City.
The law graduate went on to fight immigration cases, and then expanded her field of intervention to women rights, criminal justice, environmental degradation and Native American rights. “I had to get a sense of human rights across the US,” she said. The best part of the award, Ms. Dutt said, is that it highlights the need for effective immigration reform in a post 9/11 America.
“Right now people can be detained and deported for very minor reasons,” she said, adding, “There has to be a fair and sensible way for people to enter this country.” As the human rights officer for Ford Foundation in New Delhi, Ms. Dutt addressed the rights of marginalised communities like Dalits, adivasis, and women. She considers abuse of women as the most serious form of human rights violation in India.
“On one hand we’re on the cutting edge moving global and economic agendas but we’re still far behind when it comes to women rights,” she said. “We have a skewed sex ratio and the levels of violence are extremely high,” said the activist who spearheaded a program called “Bell Bajao” that asks men and boys to take a stand against domestic violence.
Ms. Dutt presently heads “breakthrough: building human rights culture” an international human rights organisation which spreads the message of social justice through popular media.
“I am most excited about using pop culture and the media to advance human rights,” she said, adding, the rights dialogue has been confined to the narrow legal text, which makes it inaccessible to the public.