New Delhi: Hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially received the Gates Foundation’s annual Global Goalkeeper Award for his Swachh Bharat Mission, a staff member at the foundation reportedly resigned in protest.
Sabah Hamid, a 42-year-old communications specialist, told TRT World that honouring Modi while he imposed a communications and movement lockdown in Kashmir was a grave error. “Since the foundation seemed set on its course of action to go ahead with the award – which as a private foundation it is entitled to – I could do just one thing: leave,” Hamid said.
The former employee has said that she took up the matter with her superiors, but “realised very quickly that this was a decision that would not be changed”.
Hamid, a Kashmiri, has been with the Gates Foundation for the last 3.5 years. “Being Kashmiri makes it personal. Eight million of my people have been under an undeclared curfew for 50 days now, with minimal access even to medical care, and there is a humanitarian crisis under way in the valley. The Modi led government has not only designed and implemented this crisis, their untruths and the complicity of a large part of the media means they are also trying to hijack the narrative. Being feted at large international gatherings, and winning awards plays right into that,” she said.
There has been widespread global outrage over the Gates Foundation’s decision. From three Nobel laureates – Iranian activist Shirin Ebadi, Northern Irish peace activist Mairead Maguire and Yemini journalist Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman – to a civil society group that partners Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator, several groups had penned open letters asking the Gates to reconsider.
Gates Cambridge scholars and alumni also said that the decision to reward Modi “while ignoring the gross violation of human rights under his regime is reprehensible”. An online petition seeking a revocation of the award has more than 100,000 signatures.
Two celebrities who were supposed to be present at the ceremony – British Asian actors Jameela Jamil and Riz Ahmed – pulled out of the ceremony after the Indian government’s actions in Kashmir, but have not publicly said if that was the reason from them doing so.
Renowned feminist author and activist Gloria Steinem and noted philosopher Akeel Bilgrami co-authored an opinion article in the Guardian on Tuesday, saying that the award highlighted “the collapse of any sense of international political morality”. “…the Gates Foundation’s award to Modi for starting a sanitation scheme in India seems rather like giving a prize to Mussolini for making the trains run on time,” they have said.
However, as Tuesday’s award ceremony proved, the foundation stuck to its decision despite all the criticism – from both within and outside the organisation.