Alleged human rights violations cast a pall over recognition of Indian prime ministers flagship sanitation and hygiene initiative

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is facing a barrage of criticism from prominent lawyers, human rights activists and philanthropists after it announced that it would honour Indias controversial Hindu nationalist prime minister with an award later this month.

The Global Goalkeeper award recognises Narendra Modis flagship Clean India programme, through which the government has built millions of toilets and publicised the benefits of sanitation and hygiene.

The award comes amid growing criticism of the disenfranchisement, detention and deportation of Muslims in Assam and Kashmir. Alleged human rights violations in the two states under the governing Bharatiya Janata party have made front pages around the world.

The award will be the latest addition to Modis growing haul of prestigious international prizes.

Dr Jitendra Singh (@DrJitendraSingh)

Another award,another moment of pride for every Indian, as PM Modi’s diligent and innovative initiatives bring laurels from across the world.
Sh @narendramodi to receive award from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for #SwachhBharatAbhiyaan during his visit to the United States. pic.twitter.com/QlsxOWS6jT

September 2, 2019

On Tuesday, a group of south Asian Americans working in philanthropy wrote an open letter to the Gates Foundation alleging that Modi had effectively confined millions to their communities, and urging the organisation to rescind the award.

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. Reports of torture, including beatings and the murder of a young child by Indian security officers, are emerging as well, said the letter.

The award will signal the international communitys willingness to overlook, and remain silent, in the face of the Indian governments brazen violations of human rights principles.

Suchitra Vijayan, a lawyer and co-founder of the research and journalism portal Polis Project, said philanthropic organisations had played a crucial role in whitewashing and normalising Modis violations of human rights and democracy.

Until his election to Indias highest office in 2014, Modi had been unable to enter the US because of his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which thousands of Muslims were slaughtered during his tenure as chief minister.

The narrative is India being the worlds largest democracy, India being a great place to invest, India shining, Vijayan said. All that only counts if the international community recognises these narratives.

Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth)

Why is the @GatesFoundation choosing this moment to honor Indian PM Modi (for fighting open defecation), as Muslims in India face a clampdown in Kashmir, loss of citizenship in Assam, and unremedied violence across the country. https://t.co/Dvgnm5ab14

September 7, 2019

Since Modi came to power, he has received accolades from governments and organisations around the world.

ThePhilip Kotler presidential award honoured Modi for giving new life to democracy and economic growth, while the Seoul peace prize credited him for reducing the social and economic disparity between the rich and the poor. The latter award was made despite worldwide criticism of Modis economic policies, including demonetisation, by economic experts.

Last year, the UN gave Modi the Champions of the Earth award, in spite of objections that his government has not only green lit projects that threaten to cause huge deforestation, but also allowed Indias capital, New Delhi, to become one of the most polluted cities on Earth.

The Swachh Bharat programme, for which Modi is receiving his latest award, has come under huge scrutiny in India.

Modis government has said that the scheme has provided 90% of Indians with access to clean toilets. However, press reports and a book called Where India Goes, which closely studied the programme, suggest that many of the newly-built toilets remain unused because of poor access to water and caste rules that restrict many people from cleaning them.

Indias government has employed controversial tactics to encourage use of the toilets, including good morning squads that involve government officials publicly humiliating those defecating openly. One news channel ran a national name and shame campaign urging citizens to blow the whistle on those defecating openly.

The Gates Foundation said in a statement that Modi was being recognised for the progress India is making in improving sanitation, as part of its drive toward achievement of the UN sustainable development goals.

Globally, sanitation-related diseases kill nearly 500,000 children under the age of five every year, said the statement.

Yet despite its importance, sanitation has not received significant attention. A lot of governments are not willing to talk about it, in part because there are not easy solutions.

Before the Swachh Bharat mission, over 500 million people in India did not have access to safe sanitation, and now, the majority do. There is still a long way to go, but the impacts of access to sanitation in India are already being realised. 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 worlds poorest.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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