In an open letter, Alliance for Justice and Accountability says the decision is at odds with the foundation’s “stated values.”
Early last week, when it was revealed that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation would be honoring Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “Swach Bharat Abhiyan,” a initiative he launched to provide better sanitation and toilet access across rural India, there was indeed jubilation among the Indian leader’s supporters.
However, since then, in the light of the continuing Kashmir clampdown, as well as Modi’s alleged history of human rights violations, many progressive activists and civil rights organizations have criticized the foundation’s decision.
Now two different groups have written open letters to the Gates Foundation urging it to reconsider its decision.
On Tuesday, a group of individuals identifying themselves as “South Asian Americans and Allies in Philanthropy” expressed “deep disappointment” with the foundation for honoring Modi.
“As your peers in the philanthropic sector, we urge you to withdraw this award to Prime Minister Modi, and in the alternative, confer it upon community-based organizations,” the letter states. “The Gates Foundation’s decision to honor PM Modi seems to be in complete contrast with your own stated mission: ‘we see equal value in all lives’. As you are well aware, under PM Modi’s leadership, religious minorities all across India are facing heightened levels of violence, exclusion, and discrimination. For over a month now, PM Modi has placed 8 million people in Jammu and Kashmir under house arrest, blocked communications and media coverage to the outside world, detained thousands of people including children, and denied basic benefits.”
The letter also points out that New Delhi has “begun to disenfranchise millions of residents, mainly Muslims, in the state of Assam.” It adds: “These gross human rights violations must not be diminished, denied, or compartmentalized, and especially not by philanthropic entities such as the Gates Foundation which seeks to address global inequality.”
Earlier, another umbrella coalition of various organizations, dedicated to promoting social justice and human rights, had written another open letter written to the Gates Foundation.
In the letter, the Alliance for Justice and Accountability, states: “Millions of people are rightly in awe of your philanthropic work and the positive impact it has had on entire communities around the world. Unfortunately, your recent decision to honor Mr Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, with the “Global Goalkeeper Award,” is at odds with the Foundation’s stated values of respecting all lives as having equal value.”
The letter also raises concerns over Modi’s recent action in Kashmir, which, was termed by activists as a clear violation of human rights. The letter adds, “In Kashmir, Mr Modi’s administration has placed 8 million Muslims under house arrest with total communication blockade (no access to cell phone, Internet and land lines). There are credible reports from multiple sources of torture and police violence exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, while hospitals in Kashmir are unable to provide patients with basic medicines and life-saving treatment.”
The letter also mentions the Indian government’s controversial move in Assam. It says, “In the Indian state of Assam, Mr Modi’s administration has implemented a nefarious scheme to strip 1.9 million mostly Indian Muslims of their citizenship, including the family of late Muslim President of India, Mr Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.”
The letter adds, “As seen in neighboring Myanmar, the denial of citizenship to people, who have lived in a land for generations is a first step towards ethnic cleansing.”
The letter pointed out that the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders now ranks India 138th on its World Press Freedom Index, among 180 countries.
The letter urges the Gates Foundation to revoke its decision to give the award to Modi and affirm its stand toward humanity.
The Alliance for Justice and Accountability, according to its Twitter handle, stands “together for justice, accountability, and human rights in India and the United States.” Its Twitter ID is @StopHindutva.
Last week, in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, titled “The Gates Foundation shouldn’t give an award to Narendra Modi,” Indian American lawyers Arjun Sethi and Suchitra Vijayan accused the Indian prime minister of inciting violence against minorities and curtailing freedom of expression.
“In light of Modi’s record, including promoting repressive policies in the past month in Kashmir and the northeastern state of Assam, he should not be given the award,” the Sethi and Vijayan wrote. “The Gates Foundation claims on its homepage that ‘All lives have equal value’. Giving the award to Modi would betray that promise and everyone who has suffered under his rule.”
The award will be given during Modi’s visit to the United States later this month.