"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

UN should rethink its decision to give Champions of the Earth Award to Modi Featured


Gurpreet Singh


The United Nations needs to do to Indian Prime Minister what Canada did to Aung San Suu Kyi.

Narendra Modi was given a Champions of the Earth Award last Wednesday in Delhi by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, a day after Canada stripped Suu Kyi of her Honorary Citizenship.

Suu Kyi is the Myanmar leader accused of remaining indifferent to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims at the hands of military officials and Buddhist extremists. The Canadian Senate unanimously passed a motion to revoke her Honorary Citizenship, given in recognition of her long struggle against dictatorship.

While human rights advocacy groups rejoiced at this victory in Canada, the United Nations chose to honour someone whose track record on both human rights and environment is problematic.

Modi is the leader of a right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party, which is determined to turn the world’s so-called largest secular democracy into a Hindu theocracy. Ever since his party came to power with a brute majority in 2014, attacks on religious minorities have grown. In fact, Modi, who was formerly the Chief Minister of Gujarat, is often held responsible for the anti-Muslim massacre of 2002 in that state. Thousands of Muslims were slaughtered across the state by his party men following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. That incident, which left more than 50 dead, was blamed on Muslim fundamentalists by Modi. He was never convicted for the bloodshed, though survivors of the violence and human rights activists believe that he was complicit in the crime.

To be fair, Modi was given the Champions of the Earth award by the UN for taking some initiatives to deal with climate change, such as elimination of the use of plastic bags and promoting solar technology. Undoubtedly those steps are important, but his government has been protecting companies that are responsible for causing pollution and targeting environmental activists and land defenders.

Global Witness report noted that being an environmental activist is as dangerous as it is important, including in India, where the situation has reportedly turned as bad as in Colombia and Congo. The report revealed that 16 activists and members of indigenous communities were killed in 2016 alone. 

Much like in Canada, indigenous groups in India continue to fight for their right to land and against extraction industries that are trying to evict them in the name of development and progress with the backing of the Indian state.

The recent arrests of political activists and intellectuals who have been raising concerns over the rights of indigenous communities in mineral rich tribal areas of India only show how intolerant the Modi government is towards any voice of dissent, even if it is meant to defend the climate and livelihood of the poor and marginalized. These individuals were not only branded as sympathizers of Maoist insurgents active in the tribal belt, but also accused of being involved in conspiracy to murder Modi, a charge that has been refuted by Maoists. Ironically, the United Nations had also raised the issue of jailed Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, who was given a life sentence despite being 90 percent disabled below the waist. Like others, he was also dubbed as a Maoist supporter. It is widely believed that Saibaba was framed for standing up for the rights of indigenous communities.

This year, 13 protesters were killed in a police action in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, where they were demonstrating against water and air contamination caused by the Sterlite copper factory, owned by the Vedanta group, which has donated money to the BJP and other big parties. Vedanta is a resource industry which is also in direct conflict with indigenous communities in other parts of India.

For the record, Modi is also a climate change denier. He has been arguing that the Mother Earth has become older and thus has lost its resistance power. That is his explanation of climate change and global warming, which has obviously nothing to do with science. Both Modi and his party continue to confuse people by mixing science with Hindu mythology.  

In the light of these facts, the UN has not only given legitimacy to the political right which is embroiled in fights with environmentalists and human rights activists all over the world, it has also set a bad example by picking someone who could be described as anything but a champion of the earth.




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Last modified on Friday, 05 October 2018 22:50
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