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Researchers express dismay at prize awarded to Narendra Modi

Published on 26 September 2019

An international group of researchers, led by IDS Professorial Fellow Professor Lyla Mehta have expressed their dismay that the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being honoured with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) Goalkeepers Global Goals award, in recognition of the sanitation and hygiene programme Clean India.

37 researchers in total signed a letter published in The Guardian, stating that:

“We recognise the considerable efforts made by the Indian government in tackling India’s sanitation crisis. Yet while Modi has brought the issue into mainstream political discourse, evidence suggests there remains a massive gap between the rhetoric and reality of the achievement of universal sanitation under his watch. Open defecation still prevails, alongside problems concerning sustainability and equity, especially for sanitation workers, and rights-based access.

“But what is most worrying is Modi’s human rights record and divisive politics, which prevent the realisation of the global goals that BMGF promotes. During his time as Gujarat chief minister and India’s prime minister, inflammatory hate speech, vigilante nationalism and violent acts against Christians, Muslims and women have been widespread. Freedom of speech and the right to dissent are under fire. Activists and critics have been jailed, killed and accused of being anti-national.

“Although imperfections exist in any democracy, the attitude of leaders is crucial when faced with such events. Mr Modi has generally reacted with either silence or a delayed and weak response. More recently, the Modi government’s repressive communication blockade and militarised actions in Kashmir and the crisis of detention camps that is unfolding due to the national register of citizens in Assam have undermined democratic process and the health, security, and rights of Indian citizens in these states.

“The BMGF award, along with the Seoul peace prize and UNEP’s Champions of Earth prize, serves to legitimise and embolden Modi and his supporters to intensify their divisive politics in a way that is in complete contradiction with the spirit and soul of sustainable, equitable and fair development.”

The letter has also been featured in the National Herald and Hindustan Times.

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