NEW YORK - Two prominent lawyers and activists of Indian origin have strongly urged the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation not to honour Prime Minister Narendra Modi with an award for his sanitation and toilet access project across India, citing his past month’s “repressive” actions in occupied Kashmir and the northeastern state of Assam.

“While public health is undoubtedly a priority in India and around the world, such an honour would come as his Hindu nationalist party has incited violence against minorities, silenced dissent and curtailed freedom of expression,” Suchitra Vijayan, a lawyer and executive director of the Polis Project, and Arjun Singh Sethi, a human rights lawyer and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, wrote in an article published in The Washington Post on Saturday.

“In light of Modi’s record, including promoting repressive policies in the past month in Kashmir and the northeastern state of Assam, he should not be given the award,” they said in the joint article.

“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 article said. Indian Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitendra Singh, announced earlier this week that Modi will receive an award from the foundation for his 2014 “Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan” (Clean India Mission) from during his visit to the United States later this month.

In their opinion piece, Ms Vijayan and Mr Sethi, wrote:

“Since August 5, India has imposed an unprecedented communication blockade on Kashmir. Landlines, mobile phones and the Internet have been suspended. Many Kashmiris remain cut off from their families, and a strict curfew is still in place in many areas. In the days leading up to the blockade, 38,000 troops were moved into the Kashmir Valley, putting the total troop count at more than 500,000 in what was already one of the world’s most militarized regions.

“The reports that have emerged from Kashmir since the blackout are frightening. Thousands of Kashmiris, including human rights advocates, elected officials and even young students, have reportedly been arrested in raids.”

 

The local prisons are full, according to a local magistrate, and many detainees have been flown out of the region. Family members wait in anguish, fearing that their loved ones may be forcibly disappeared, as an estimated 8,000 Kashmiris were before them. There have been reports of torture and police violence. Compounding this is a humanitarian crisis, as patients in Kashmir can’t access medicine and life-saving treatment.

“At the same time, Modi is also pursuing an exclusionary strategy in Assam. On August 31, the government published a list that excluded about 1.9 million people who it claims do not have the appropriate documents to prove their citizenship. Many are Muslims, women and children from low-income and impoverished backgrounds. Those excluded from the list have 120 days to appeal and prove their citizenship, and if they fail, could be detained or deported.”