A group of South Asian Americans have written an open letter to Bill Gates and Melinda Gates asking them to drop Narendra Modi as their choice for “Global Gatekeeper Award” for his Swacch Bharat Mission, under which millions of toilets have been built across India, where open defecation is a major problem. A petition with nearly 100,000 signatories has slammed the Gates Foundation and demanded that it drops its decision. As a person responsible for multiple human rights violations, the letter reads, Prime Minister Narendra Modi should not be conferred upon with such a high honour.
The letter was carried by stopgenocide.org. Stop Genocide petition was organised by ‘Justice For All’, a human rights organisation headed by Abdul Malik Mujahid, an internationally recognised expert on human rights. The letter appeals to Gates Foundation “These gross human rights violations must not be diminished, denied or compartmentalised, and especially not by philanthropic entities such as the Gates Foundation which seeks to address global inequality,” the letter says, reports The Telegraph.
The parties to the signing of this letter include Dimple Abichandani, Reema Ahmad, Rini Banerjee, Sheila Bapat, Shona Chakravartty, Trishala Deb, Neha Singh Gohil, Sana Jafri, Anita Khashu, Aleyamma Mathew and Supriya Pillai, and various others, who are currently part of different foundations, trusts and funds.
"While we understand the award was given for [Modi's sanitation initiative], it nevertheless seems inconsistent to give a humanitarian award to a man whose nickname is the 'Butcher of Gujarat'," the statement said, reports Al-Jazeera.
The letter also comments on the timing of this award, since it comes at a time when an entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is facing communication and movement blockade. It says that the timing of this award is “awkward.” "In Kashmir, more than 800,000 Indian armed forces have kept eight million Kashmiris detained in their own homes without phones or internet services for the last month," the petition said.
“Given the Gates Foundation’s global influence and impact on the needs of vulnerable communities, the decision to honour PM Modi sends the message that the lives of Kashmiris, Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, Christians and other minority populations in India who are under siege are of less value.”
However, the Gates foundation chose to stand by its decision, sending a statement to The Telegraph. It said that the award is solely being conferred to him for his contributions in the sanitation sector, and that it does not reflect on any other matter. They clarified that Modi has provided a way to reach the poorest of the poor and implement a scheme that every country can take inputs from.
“Before the Swachh Bharat Mission, over 500 million people in India did not have access to safe sanitation, and now the majority do,” the foundation said via email to The Telegraph. “There is still a long way to go, but the impacts of access to sanitation in India are already being realised.” It added: “Despite its importance, sanitation has not received significant attention and governments are not willing to talk about it, in part because there are no easy solutions. The Swachh Bharat Mission can serve as a model for other countries around the world that urgently need to improve access to sanitation for the world’s poorest.”
However, The Telegraph reported that the petition signatories have stood by their criticism.
Meanwhile three Nobel Laureates too have appealed to the Gates Foundation to rescind its award to PM Modi. These Nobel Laureates are Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate (1976), Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman, Nobel Peace Laureate (2011), Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate (2003).