Before he Left, Obama Raises Religious Diversity, Women Empowerment

Published: 27th January 2015 03:10 PM  |   Last Updated: 27th January 2015 03:46 PM   |  A+A-


NEW DELHI: After two days of talking business and strategic relations, US president Barack Obama closed his three-day visit on Tuesday with a reminder that India should uphold the rights of religious minorities and women.

Also Read: Obama Promotes Religious Tolerance in India Speech

During his speech at Siri Fort auditorium which was frequently interspersed with personal references, Obama spoke about he had been target of discrimination for the colour of his skin or for suffering persistent rumours of being Muslim.

He noted that last time in India, he had spoken to the Indian parliament, but now he wanted too directly speak to the Indian people.

"There have been times where my faith has at times been questioned by people who don't know me, or they've said that I adhere to a different religion, as if that were somehow a bad thing," Obama said.

Speaking in the context of equality for all, Obama said that while he has had extraordinary opportunities, "there were moments in my life where I've been treated differently because of the colour of my skin”.

“Are we measured by the content of our character rather than by colour of our skin, or way in which we worship of god?” he asked.

Click >>> Rare Photos of US Presidents Visit to India 

He dwelt some time on the issue of religious plurality, stating, “Across our two great countries, we have hindus and muslims, christians and sikhs, jews and buddhists and Jains and so many faiths”.

But, Obama warned that religion can also be a tool for suppression – “No society is immune from darkest impulses of man”.

He referred to the shooting in 2012 at a Gurudwara in Oak creek, Wisconsin which left six people dead. "In that moment of shared grief, our two countries reaffirmed a basic truth, as we must again today, that every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination," Obama said.

He pointed out that both constitutions of India and US upheld the right to profess and practice their own religion. He specifically quoted Article 25 of the Indian constitution in this context.

“Our diversity is our strength. We have to guard against the lines trying to divide us, sectarian or any other lines,” said the US president.

He quoted Mahatma Gandhi as saying, “for me the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden”.

“India will succeed so long as it is not splintered on religious lines,” added Obama.

Pointing to his wife, Michelle Obama in the audience, he said that he was married to a strong woman, as he went on to speak eloquently about women empowerment.

"Every woman should be able to go about her day — to walk the street or ride the bus — and be safe and be treated with the respect and dignity that she deserves," Obama said to applause.

This especially resonated in the audience, made up many young girls from local colleges, who spoke later about the daily harassment faced on Delhi streets.

"Our nations are strongest when we uphold the equality of all our people and that includes our women," he said.

Incidentally, Obama said that one of the highlights of his trip was to see so many Indian women as part of the armed forces. "It is remarkable," he added.

With the audience being largely composed of students, Obama spoke about the promise of Indian youth. He introduced a 16-year-old boy Vishal Ahirwal, who he had met during his last visit to India in 2010, who had aspirations to join the defence forces. “Vishal’s dreams are as important as Sasha and Malia’s,” he said.

As with his other appearances in India, Obama also tried to speak Hindi, beginning his speech with a ‘Namaste’ and ending with ‘Jai Hind’.

But the most applause he got was when Obama attempted the famous dialogue from the film, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. “senorita, bade bade deshon mein… you know what I mean,” he said, as the house resounded to claps and cheers.

This thread was picked up by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his farewell message on twitter to Obama. “As for the rainy day yesterday, as you yourself said today morning, Bade Bade Deshon Mein..,” he posted, ending with the first use of a ‘smiley’ in an official tweet from the Indian PM.

The audience included Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, who also met with President separately before the entourage left to board Air Force one. 

US president left for Riyadh to pay his condolences on the death of the previous King Abdullah and meet with the new King Salman. 


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