Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, does not deserve the 2019 Goalkeepers Global Goals Award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) for his government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Mission) program. Human rights supporters around the world are outraged that the honor was bestowed upon a man accused of being involved in multiple civil and criminal abuses.
Prime Minister Modi hinted that his government’s clean-up efforts would get a nod of approval from the highly-revered “father of India,” Mahatma Gandhi when he said of Swachh Bharat:
“Gandhi ji’s dream for swachhata (cleanliness) is now becoming true.”
One critic said the honor acknowledged the construction of 100 million toilets across India in the past five years while overlooking accusations that Modi either organized or allowed the murder of hundreds of Muslims in the state of Gujarat. More recently, he failed to stop lynchings of Muslims by “cow protection” vigilantes.
A petition circulating implores:
“GATES, DO NOT AWARD MODI”
“Don’t reward fascism. The Butcher of Gujarat, Modi, doesn’t deserve an award from the Bill Gates Foundation- sign the petition.”
The Goalkeepers award winner earned the grisly nickname Butcher of Gujarat after three days of riots in 2002 left more than a thousand Muslims dead while Modi was chief minister of the western state. The leader was accused of inciting and condoning the uprising but Indian courts cleared him of any involvement in the worst anti-Muslim violence India has seen in modern times.
After that incident, citing it’s International Religious Freedom Act, the United States denied Modi a visa in 2005. The U.S. travel ban remained in force until 2014, the year Modi was elected prime minister of India.
Over 106,000 people have signed the online petition to oppose the political endorsement extended by the BMGF:
“Narendra Modi does not deserve it, and to have awarded him is beneath the dignity and moral stature of your Foundation.”
The goal of Clean India Mission is to improve the lives of people in India by building toilets for the poor and eliminating open defecation. The initiative aims to help India reach the country’s UN-driven Sustainable Development Goal 6, (SDG 6) which calls for clean water and sanitation for all people.
The Gates Foundation defended its decision to honor Modi “for the progress India is making in improving sanitation,” stating further that:
“Sanitation is a key factor in improving the health and wellbeing of millions of people, especially women and children. Before the Swachh Bharat mission, over 500 million people in India did not have access to safe sanitation, and now, the majority do.”
Indians are benefitting from the improved human waste facilities but one observer questioned the appropriateness of the award’s recipient in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Washington Post:
“Modi’s sanitation campaign has no doubt benefitted people but how can access to a clean toilet outweigh the violence and persecution they may face in the rest of their lives? If the Gates Foundation really wants to amplify sanitation efforts in India, it should give the award to community workers instead of a far-right nationalist.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power after Modi’s election in 2014. The controversial leader was re-elected in the spring of 2019 for a second term.
Three Nobel Peace Prize Laureates (Mairead Maguire, Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman, and Shirin Ebadi) wrote a protest letter to say they were “deeply disturbed” to learn of the award decision:
“Under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, India has descended into dangerous and deadly chaos that has consistently undermined human rights, democracy. This is particularly troubling to us as the stated mission of your foundation is to preserve life and fight inequity.”
The Indian Supreme Court spoke out against communal violence that is especially heated in border areas where Muslims and Hindus clash, saying that such “horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land.”
Not everyone opposes the Gates Foundation award, claiming that the Clean India Mission program has been successful in raising the quality of life and culture of India. Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Maham Malik said:
“Modi’s Swachh Bharat Scheme has managed to generate awareness amongst the people for cleanliness. A few years ago, banning activities such as open defecation was a distant dream. Waste segregation was unthinkable for the general public.”
The Indian prime minister tweeted a message of gratitude to his citizens on September 24:
“I dedicate the Global Goalkeeper Award, conferred by the @gatesfoundation, to the 130 crore [a crore equals ten million] people of India and the collective endeavors of our nation to improve cleanliness.
“It makes me most happy that India’s successes in sanitation have helped women and children the most.”