Actors Jameela Jamil and Riz Ahmed have pulled out of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ceremony where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to receive an award for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan,
“Jameela Jamil and Riz Ahmed are no longer participating in Goalkeepers,” the foundation told HuffPost India on Monday.
On Twitter, Jamil said she would “not be commenting on any of this” in response to a tweet by Polis Project’s Suchitra Vijayan asking her about pulling out.
Ahmed has not publicly commented on the decision.
Modi will attend the ceremony early next week during his visit to the US.
The Gates Foundation’s decision to award Modi for Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Mission) has invited sharp criticism from various quarters, with academics and activists calling on the organisation to rescind the award.
Days after the award was announced, executive director of the Polis Project Suchitra Vijayan and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Arjun Singh Sethi called on the foundation to withdraw the award
“Under his leadership the country has witnessed a spike in hate crimes and mob violence, particularly against Muslims and Dalits. Rarely are the perpetrators held accountable,” Vijayan and Sethi wrote in The Washington Post.
“Modi’s sanitation campaign has no doubt benefited people, but how can access to a clean toilet outweigh the violence and persecution they may face in the rest of their lives? Giving Modi this award would legitimize his policies and embolden the ethnonationalist forces he has championed,” they said.
An online petition by Justice For All, which cited the restrictions in Kashmir and the Assam NRC, said the award had come at an “awkward time” and called on the Gates Foundation to reconsider its decision. The petition has garnered over 100,000 signatures.
An open letter by a group of South Asians, who said they were “peers in the philanthropic sector”, urged the foundation to withdraw the award, saying, “Given the Gates Foundation’s global influence and impact on the needs of vulnerable communities, the decision to honor PM Modi sends the message that the lives of Kashmiris, Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, Christians, and other minority populations in India who are under siege are of less value”.
In its statement to HuffPost India, the Gates Foundation stood by its decision, saying Modi was receiving the award for “the progress India is making in improving sanitation, as part of its drive toward achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
“Before the Swachh Bharat mission, over 500 million people in India did not have access to safe sanitation, and now, the majority do. There is still a long way to go, but the impacts of access to sanitation in India are already being realized. The Swachh Bharat Mission can serve as a model for other countries around the world that urgently need to improve access to sanitation for the world’s poorest,” it said.
The article has been updated with Jameela Jamil’s comments on Twitter.