Activists delivered a petition with more than 100,000 signatures to the Gates Foundation’s Seattle headquarters on Monday asking the high-profile organization not to give an award to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an event next week.
The petition from Justice for All says the award, which the foundation is giving to Modi for a sanitation initiative in India, “could not have come at a more awkward time.” It points to recent events in Kashmir, where Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government stripped its part of the Muslim-majority state of its autonomy last month and then arrested thousands of people and cut communications in a widespread crackdown.
Actors Riz Ahmed and Jameela Jamil have also pulled out of the Gates event, which they were scheduled to attend next week. Jamil said on Twitter that she “will not be commenting on any of this” in response to a tweet about her pulling out. HuffPost reached out to Ahmed’s representatives for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
In a statement to HuffPost India, the Gates Foundation said it would still be giving the award to Modi next week, saying it is for “the progress India is making in improving sanitation” and credited the Indian government’s Swachh Bharat initiative with expanding access to “safe sanitation” to millions.
HuffPost reached out to the Gates Foundation for further comment but did not immediately receive a response.
In an opinion article in The Washington Post earlier this month, human rights lawyer Arjun Sethi wrote that, although public health is “undoubtedly a priority in India,” the foundation should not honor Modi, whose “Hindu nationalist party has incited violence against minorities, silenced dissent and curtailed freedom of expression,” noting the “repressive policies” in Kashmir.
The Gates Foundation annual event in New York City on Sept. 24-25 will include New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern among its speakers. In previous years, former President Barack Obama spoke, as well as human rights advocate Malala Yousafzai.
As part of Modi’s visit to the U.S. next week, he will also participate in an event with President Donald Trump in Houston “to emphasize the strong ties between the people of the United States and India,” according to the White House.
A request for comment from the White House did not receive a response by late Monday.