Joining the growing list of people who have voiced out their opposition against news that Narendra Modi is to be awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hollywood actors Riz Ahmed and Jameela Jamil have pulled out of the ceremony in protest.
Modi is being awarded for his government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India) Initiative. He will attend the ceremony early next week during his visit to the US.
However, the Gates Foundation’s decision to award him has invited sharp criticism from various quarters, with academics and activists calling on the organisation to cancel the award.
Days after the award was announced, executive director of the Polis Project Suchitra Vijayan and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Arjun Singh Sethi called on the foundation to withdraw the award
“Under his leadership, the country has witnessed a spike in hate crimes and mob violence, particularly against Muslims and Dalits. Rarely are the perpetrators held accountable,” Vijayan and Sethi wrote in The Washington Post.
An online petition by Justice For All, which cited the restrictions in Kashmir and the Assam NRC, said the award had come at an “awkward time” and called on the Gates Foundation to reconsider its decision. The petition has garnered over 100,000 signatures.
In an open letter to the foundation, a group of South Asian Americans has said the decision to honour Modi “seems to be, in complete contrast” with the foundation’s own stated mission: “We see equal value in all lives.”
It has said that religious minorities across India are facing heightened levels of violence, exclusion and discrimination under Modi’s leadership.
It has also referred to the Modi government’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir, highlighting the more-than-a-month-old curbs on movement and communications imposed on Kashmiris.
“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.
“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.”
The signatories 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, among others, representing various foundations, trusts and funds.
They said the proposed award to Modi would signal the international community’s willingness to overlook and remain silent in the face of, the Indian government’s brazen violations of human rights principles.
“As South Asian Americans, we are deeply troubled by the mistreatment of vulnerable communities in India, and currently in Jammu and Kashmir,” they said.
If the foundation wishes to laud India’s Swachh Bharat campaign, the letter said, it could redirect the award to community-based organisations and grassroots advocates rather than honour a political leader responsible for gross human rights violations.