Alt News co-founders Pratik Sinha and Mohammed Zubair have also been named in the list for their stellar work in busting fake news. However, PRIO does not have any association with the Nobel Institute or the Nobel Committee.
Indian author and human rights activist Harsh Mander, along with his campaign Karwan-eMohabbat (“Caravan of Love”), and the co-founders of Alt News Mohammed Zubair and Pratik Sinha, were named by Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in its yearly shortlist for the Nobel Peace Prize.
It is the norm for PRIO directors to declare their personal shortlists for the Nobel Peace Prize every year. Henrik Urdal, who became the current director in 2017, presented his fifth list on February 1. The laureate will be announced later this year, in October.
However, Urdal has no association with the Nobel Institute or the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The Norwegian Nobel Committee also acknowledges that being nominated does not imply any honour or affiliation with the Nobel Peace Prize or its affiliated institutions.
The official statement from Urdal said a “compelling rationale” for being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize is “fighting religious extremism and promoting interreligious dialogue”. The PRIO declared Harsh Mander a ‘’worthy recipient of such a prize along with his campaign Karwan-e-Mohabbat (“Caravan of Love”).
“Embodied by the figure of Mahatma Gandhi, India has a proud tradition of religious tolerance and pluralism. 75 years after India gained its independence, this tradition is under strain,” Urdal’s statement read.
“Under Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist administration, the situation for Muslims in India has become increasingly difficult, and the country has seen numerous incidents of religiously motivated violence,” his statement added.
Responding to this violence is Mander, who is an important voice for “religious tolerance and dialogue” and his campaign Karwan-e-Mohabbat, which is a crucial rallying point for those who “oppose interreligious conflict and violence”, Urdal underscored during his nomination.
Urdal also named Mohammed Zubair and Pratik Sinha, the co-founders of Alt News, a fact-checking site, for their fight against religious extremism and intolerance in India.
Mander is a former IAS and member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) during the UPA regime. He had started Karwan-e-Mohabbat, a civil society initiative for solidarity and atonement, in 2017. It comprises writers, journalists, human rights activists, lawyers and volunteers, who travel across the country to meet families, who have suffered due to hate violence and lynching.
“In our travels, films, writings, public tribunals and other events we chronicle India’s rising darkness, to inform and influence the public conscience; and supporting the survivors with legal justice and all support to rebuild their broken lives, ” their website says.
The Karwan first started its journey in September 2017 to Assam. It has since then made 21 journeys across 12 states. Mander is also the director of the Centre for Equity Studies in New Delhi.
Pratik Sinha and Muhammed Zubair co-founded and run Alt News, an Indian not-for-profit fact-checking website. It was launched in February 2017 to combat the phenomenon of fake news and became a signatory partner of the International Fact-Checking Network.
Pratik’s interest in exposing fake news began when he was working with his activist parents in India. He had followed the rise of fake news as early as 2013 but was moved to start the website after realising the impact of social media in 2016, when four Dalit boys were flogged for skinning a dead cow in Una, Gujarat. He quit freelancing as a software engineer in 2016 and founded Alt News the next year.
Harsh Mander has been a staunch critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government. In his writings, he has often criticised the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for its handling of the coronavirus crisis, the 2020 riots in Delhi, and the “intensifying attack” on press freedom in India.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) had raided his home and office last year in September when he went to Berlin, Germany at the invitation of the Robert Bosch Academy to join them for the prestigious Richard Von Weizsacker Fellowship. ED Officials however said they were investigating a money laundering case against him.
Activists and lawyers called the move an attempt to “threaten, intimidate and silence” critics.
“We condemn these raids to harass and intimidate a leading human rights and peace activist who has done nothing but work for peace and harmony, consistently upholding the highest moral standards of honesty and probity,” over 700 signatories said in a statement. They included economist Jean Dreze, historian Romila Thapar, women’s right activist Kavita Krishnan, and filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, among many others.
Mr Modi has been widely accused of using government institutions to target his critics and suppress dissent, raising fears about press freedom in the world’s largest democracy.
Harsh Mandar has also been a prominent critic of the Indian government’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a 2019-era legislation which is seeking to fast track citizenship applications for persecuted non-Muslim minorities from India’s neighbours like, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Critics of the CAA claim that the Act could be misused to deprive Indian Muslims of their citizenship. While the charge has been denied by Prime Minister Modi and India’s home minister Amit Shah, Muslims, students and activists in different parts of the country took to the streets demanding the Act be repealed.
In February 2020, these protests culminated in horrific riots in north-east Delhi that lasted for several days and saw the deaths of 53 people, most of them Muslims.
Mander blames the Modi government for instigating the riots.
Unsurprisingly, Mander’s nomination for the top peace prize drew a critical reaction from Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), a Hindu nationalist organisation and ideological ally of Prime Minister Modi. The National Co- convenor of SJM took to Twitter to proclaim his disgust.
Other prominent names on the PRIO list include Belarus’s opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, San Francisco-based Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) and the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), Scholar Ilham Tohti who tried to expose human rights abuses perpetrated against Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region, Agnes Chow Ting and Nathan Law Kwun-chung leading figures in the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and Human rights activist Nataša Kandić who founded the Belgrade based Humanitarian Law Centre (in 1992) that documents rights violations associated with wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.