Gates Cambridge Scholars have issued an open plea for the withdrawal of the Global Goals Award from Indian Prime minister, Narendra Modi. The award is being given by the Gates Foundation in recognition of its sanitation initiative, Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission), for household and street sanitation, specifically through toilet installation.
Writers of the letter, which has now been signed by over 100 Gates Cambridge scholars and alumni, express concern that the award strengthens Modi’s standing and distracts attention from human rights abuses. ‘As Gates Cambridge scholars and alumni, with a commitment to improving the lives of others, we cannot stand in silence as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports and encourages the Modi-led authoritarian regime responsible for gross human rights violations in India.’
The letter goes on to state, ‘By embracing Modi with the Global Goalkeeper Award, the Foundation is indeed going against its own principle that ‘all lives have equal value’. Given the current climate of violence, intimidation, and fear in India, the Foundation needs to condemn and not reward PM Modi’s leadership.’
The letter points to the withdrawal of autonomy from Jammu and Kashmir and arrests of democratically elected representatives and suppression of communications in the state, as well as the government implementation of a National Register for Citizens that would potentially strip 1.9 million citizens (mostly Muslims) from their state.
The authors state that, ‘at the time of writing this letter, there are seven million Kashmiris under military siege lasting for over 40 days. Several media sources have reported on the inhuman conditions in the state, including house arrests, detentions, humiliation, and complete isolation of Kashmiris.’
The letter states, ‘The initiative perpetuates the historical reliance on the most marginalised castes to clean human excreta, sewage and septic tanks with their bare hands and bodies,’ and quotes Bezwada Wilson saying, ‘Regardless of the debatable scope of the initiative, its promise of welfare and dignity for all is at odds with the unprecedented marginalisation of minorities under PM Modi’s government.’
The letter also offers support to a ‘Stop Genocide’ petition which has received over 100,000 signatures in opposition to Modi as a recipient of the Gates award. Earlier this month, South Asian Americans in philanthropy called on the Foundation to withdraw the award, stating the decision to honour him amid heightened levels of violence, exclusion, and discrimination faced by religious minorities was in conflict with the foundation’s mission.
Responding to concerns raised by Gates Cambridge scholars, a spokesperson for the Gates Foundation is quoted in Cambridge student newspaper, Varsity ‘We respect their views and their right to express themselves’. However, the spokesperson rejected the criticism telling Varsity that ‘Sanitation is a key factor in improving the health and well-being of millions of people, especially women and children…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.’