The Gates Foundation shouldn’t legitimise Narendra Modi

by Gloria Steinem and Akeel Bilgrami – September 24, 2019

The Guardian

The prime minister of India’s appalling record should be deplored, not celebrated with an award.

It is one thing for a political leader to come to power in his country by exploiting the darkest nationalistic instincts of its electorate. It is quite another thing for such a man to be awarded an international prize and embraced as a statesman by the most powerful and influential country in the world. The former reflects a familiar and vexing paradox of democracy – its deliberate subversion from within. The latter is entirely gratuitous and speaks to the collapse of any sense of international political morality.

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.

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.

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.

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