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Obama presses India on equal rights

President Obama urged India to better protect religious freedom and ethnic equality in a farewell speech on Tuesday, arguing that “our nations are strongest when we uphold the equality of all our people.”

In the speech to an audience of 1,500 at a government center in New Delhi, the president pressured India to do more to secure equal rights.


Alluding to the repeated reports of sexual violence against women within India, Obama said women needed not only to be treated fairly under the law, but able to “walk the street” without fear.

“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,” he said.

Obama’s host, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has pushed to improve women’s rights in the country, urging parents to educate their female children equally.

The president also pushed India to respect minority religions, saying the country would “succeed so long as it is not splintered along lines of religious faith.”

“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 of discrimination,” he said. “Nowhere is that more important than India, nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld.”

Some eight in 10 Indians are Hindu, and the election of Modi has prompted concern among the nation’s minority Muslims. Modi had for years been denied a visa to visit the U.S. over his time as a regional governor when large-scale riots led to the deaths of hundreds of people — mostly Muslims. Although he was later cleared by the Indian’s highest court, his party’s policies are viewed skeptically by many religious minorities in India.

Obama said he empathized with those who were concerned about discrimination, and that “there were moments in my life where I’ve been treated differently because of the color of my skin.”

“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.

Obama also pushed India to embrace more aggressive climate controls, warning that the nation of 1.2 billion people was crucial to the fight. Indian officials have been reluctant to agree to new restrictions on the use of fossil fuels, saying cheap energy is important to the development of a country where many still do not have regular access to electricity.

“I know the argument made by some, that it’s unfair for countries like the United States to ask developing nations and emerging economies like India to reduce your dependence on the same fossil fuels that helped power our growth for more than a century,” Obama said.

“But here’s the truth: even if countries like the United States curb our emissions, if growing countries like India — with soaring energy needs — don’t also embrace cleaner fuels, then we don’t stand a chance against climate change.”

Before delivering his address, Obama and the first lady met with fellow Nobel Peace Prize recipient Kailash Satyarthi, a child rights activist.

Satyarthi was awarded the Nobel in 2014 alongside Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai for his work campaigning against child labor. He brought three young children saved from child slavery to the meeting, and thanked Obama for his administration’s efforts to combat child slavery.

Source:The Hill

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