International human rights activists have slammed a decision by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to hand India's Prime Minister an award in recognition of his work to improve sanitation in the country.
The Global Gatekeeper award, due to be given to Narendra Modi on September 24 in New York, celebrates the country's Clean India program -- which has seen millions of toilets built as part of a drive to raise awareness of hygiene.
But a group of prominent South Asian Americans, who say they are "allies in philanthropy," have written an open letter criticizing the award and urging the foundation to withdraw it, citing concerns over his human rights record.
The following is an excerpt from that letter:
"The Gates Foundation’s decision to honor PM Modi seems to be in complete contrast with your own stated mission: 'we see equal value in all lives.' As you are well aware, under PM Modi’s leadership, religious minorities all across India are facing heightened levels of violence, exclusion, and discrimination. 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. In addition, the Indian government has begun to disenfranchise millions of residents, mainly Muslims, in the state of Assam," the letter, which was published on Medium, stated.
Across India and beyond there have been widespread concerns about an increase in violent Hindu nationalism and vigilantism against minority Muslims since Modi came to power in 2014.
Modi, whose Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was sworn in for a second term in May following a landslide victory, has faced intense criticism over allegations of human rights violations.
In August, Modi's governments stripped the state of Jammu and Kashmir of its partial autonomy and downgraded its federal status, imposing strict restrictions on movement and suspending all communications, in a dramatic crackdown that essentially shut the disputed region off from the outside world. Limited communications have been restored since in some districts in the region.