The Gates Foundation shouldn’t legitimise Narendra Modi

The Guardian-1 year before

The Gates Foundation has announced it is bestowing a prestigious annual award on prime minister Narendra Modi of India. And in advance of the UN general assembly meeting in New York, Donald Trump flew down to Houston, Texas, to welcome him at an event charmingly dubbed the “Howdy Modi” rally.

...d/2019/sep/12/bill-and-melinda-gates-foundation-under-fire-over-award-for-narendra-modi">on prime minister Narendra Modi Howdy Modi The Gates Foundation’s award to Modi for starting a sanitation scheme in India seems rather like giving a prize to Mussolini for making the trains run on time

Yet it was less than 15 years ago that Modi was denied a visa to the US, the only person in the world ever to have been banned under the International Religious Freedom Act. That’s because in 2002, when he was chief minister of Gujarat, Modi helped create the conditions for a three-day anti-Muslim riot that resulted in rape, murder and the burning of homes. It has been widely described as state terrorism and ethnic cleansing.

have been banned a three-day anti-Muslim riot Now, as prime minister of India, Modi presides over a culture where acts of hate against Muslims occur daily across the nation, and also against Dalits, the lowest group in the Hindu caste system. There is a massive record of their humiliation, including repeated sexualised violence against women and young girls from those groups, and frequent lynchings of men, echoing a dark period in the history of the US. Not only are these barbarities rarely prosecuted, but those who attempt to intervene to stop them are often punished.

acts of hate against Muslims against Dalits India has historically had a robust free press, but now Modi’s government harasses and closes down media that are critical of his regime. The same goes for unions, human rights law firms and academics.

closes down media His perverse demonetisation scheme has deprived the poor and middle class of savings, and in addition to selling off natural resources to global businesses, he is all set to privatise the railways and public transport on which average citizens depend.

demonetisation scheme Most recently, Modi has defied the constitution of India by revoking the autonomy it afforded Jammu and Kashmir. Why? Because the incessant violence of its military occupation of that region, 70% of whose citizens are Muslim, is quite naturally being resisted by them. He has imposed severe restrictions on internet communication there, thus creating a virtual prison governed by well-armed members of the Indian army.

Kashmir resisted by them virtual prison So, has the US government officially criticised this unblushing brutalisation of the people of India? On the contrary, under Trump it has pitched the sale of arms to India in order to compete with Russia. And Modi has been paraded as a feted guest in Houston and New York.

the sale of arms to India paraded as a feted guest In the light of this record of wrongdoing, the Gates Foundation’s award to Modi for starting a sanitation scheme in India seems rather like giving a prize to Mussolini for making the trains run on time.

India The scheme, in any case, does little to provide sanitation for the most impoverished segments of the population who need it most, and it does nothing to undermine, let alone address, the fact that the most degrading forms of sanitation labour have for centuries been assigned to the lowest rungs in the caste hierarchy.

But such details aside, it is bizarre that a prize intended for those who uplift the poorest has gone to the seediest tormentor of the poorest and most marginalised people of India.

We write this opinion piece as citizens of these two biggest and most diverse democracies in the world, the US and India, who have spent years living and working in each other’s countries.

Governance, in the honourable traditions of liberty and democracy of both our nations, was never intended to begin with: “I, the president” or “I, the prime minister”, as is now increasingly the case. It begins, rather, with: “We, the people”.

So, we ourselves can declare our support for the International Religious Freedom Act and explicitly recoil from both Prime Minister Modi and President Trump’s anti-Muslim bias. And we can oppose their shared glorification of an unequal past by vowing to make India and the US live up to their democratic promise.

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