President Obama in India: Says Dhanyavad with Religion, Women & Climate Change

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New Delhi – US President Barack Obama on Tuesday said his country can become India’s “best partner” if India embraced stringent action to stop climate change and applied reforms in major fields.

Addressing an audience largely made up of students at a town hall meeting in India’s capital, Obama felt here was “much untapped potential” in the US-Indian economic relationship. “India and the United States are not just natural partners – I believe that America can be India’s best partner,” Obama said. The attendance was approximately 1,500, according to SK Sharma, the Assistant Civil Engineer at Siri Fort Auditorium.

“Of course, only Indians can decide India’s role in the world. But I’m here because I am absolutely convinced that both our peoples will have more jobs and opportunity, our nations will be more secure, and the world will be a safer and more just place when our two democracies stand together.”

Obama cautioned that the world does not “stand a chance against climate change” unless developing countries like India reduce dependence on fossil fuels. “We’ll continue to help India deal with the impacts of climate change — because you shouldn’t have to bear that burden alone,” said Obama.

President Obama also spoke of the importance of religious tolerance and raised the issue of women’s safety and dignity.

“In both of our countries, in all countries, upholding this fundamental freedom (of religion) is the responsibility of the government, but its also the responsibility of every person,” Obama said.

Citing the “wisdom of Gandhiji, who said, “for me, the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree,” Obama quoted Indian Constitution about freedom of religion, saying: Your Article 25 says that all people are “equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.”

“India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith — so long as it’s not splintered along any lines — and is unified as one nation,” said Obama, adding, “And it’s when all Indians, whatever your faith, go to the movies and applaud actors like Shah Rukh Khan. And when you celebrate athletes like Milkha Singh or Mary Kom.”

Amid thunderous applause, Obama said, “Every daughter deserves the same chance as our sons. Every woman should be able to go about her day — to walk the streets or ride the bus — and be safe, and be treated with respect and dignity. She deserves that.”

“We know from experience that nations are more successful when their women are successful, said Obama adding, “So if nations really want to succeed in today’s global economy, they can’t simply ignore the talents of half their people.”

Obama was introduced by Neha Buch, age 33, the CEO of Pravah, a leading Delhi-based NGO that promotes active citizenship and social enterprise for young Indians. As Obama walked toward the podium some people in the audience yelled “Obama, Obama!”

Obama gave his remarks from a podium on a large stage. Indian and American flags hung behind him. Obama’s speech lasted about 35 minutes. He and the first lady shook hands with members of the very enthusiastic crowd for a few minutes after the speech.

Before the speech Obama met with Kailash Satyarthi who, along with Malala Yousafzai, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. In the room, Obama was meeting with Satyarthi, there were also present First Lady Michelle Obama, Satyarthi’s wife Sumedha Satyarth and three children saved from child slavery – 12-year-old Payal Jangid, 12-year-old Ayub Khan and a boy named Deepak.

Satyarthi told Obama that there are still more than 5 million child slaves worldwide but “Thanks to your administration in America the number of child slaves has gone down.” Obama nodded and listened intently.

Michelle Obama embraced Payal the entire time. The First Lady’s left arm rested on the girl’s left shoulder and the two held hands. She laughed with the girl and at points leaned close into her.

Siri Fort Auditorium is located in the historic Siri Fort area of South Delhi. Operated by the Government of India, it is one of the premier cultural events centers in New Delhi and regularly hosts film festivals, concerts, and dance performances.

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