Making a strong pitch for religious tolerance, US President Barack Obama Tuesday said every person has the right to practice his faith without any persecution and that India will succeed so long it is not “splintered” on religious lines.
On his final day in India, Obama declared US relations with India as “one of the defining partnerships of this century,” while nudging his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, to pursue greater economic equality, women’s rights, and religious tolerance.
Addressing a Town hall event at the Siri Fort auditorium on the third and final day of his visit to India, Obama also said that America can be India’s “best partner”.
“Every person has the right to practice his faith without any persecution, fear or discrimination. India will succeed so long it is not splintered on religious lines,” Obama told the audience comprising mainly young people during the course of his 30-minute speech.
The President’s comments came against the backdrop of the controversy over religious conversions and ‘Ghar Wapsi” programmes by right wing Hindu outfits in India.
Obama also cited Article 25 of the Indian Constitution dealing with the Right to Freedom of religion.
“Your (Constitution) Article 25 says all people are equally entitled to the freedom of conscience and have right to freely profess and practise and propagate religion. In both our countries, in all countries upholding with freedom of religion is the utmost responsibility of the government but also the responsibility of every person,” he said.
Obama also said that around the world we have seen intolerance, violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to be standing for upholding their faith.
“We have to guard against any efforts to divide us on sectarian lines or any other thing,” he said.
Obama further said that no society is immune by the darkest impulses of man and that more often religion has been used to tap into it.
Obama recounted an incident that occurred three years ago in Wisconsin where a man went into a Sikh gurudwara and “in a terrible act of violence” killed six innocent people which included both American and Indians.
“In that moment of shared grief, the two countries reaffirmed the basic truth that we must again today. Every person has a right to practice the faith that they choose and to practice no faith at all and to do so free of persecution, fear or discrimination,” he said.
In his own life, the president said, his Christian faith has been questioned by “people who don’t know me,” a reference to lingering suspicions among some about his Islamic heritage on his father’s side.
In his speech, attended by young students, scholars and others, Obama said such a proposition holds much importance in India.
“And nowhere it is more important than in India. Nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld,” he said.
Underlining the factors that unify both the countries, Obama said “our diversity is our strength” and cautioned that both India and the US have to be on guard against divisive efforts along sectarian lines or any other lines.
“...If we do that well and if America shows itself as example of its diversity and the capacity to live and work together in common effort and common purpose and if India as massive as it is with so much diversity, so many differences, is able to continuously reaffirm its democracy so that is an example for every other country. That’s what makes us world leaders. Not just the size of our economies or the number of weapons we have but our ability to show the way and how we work together,” he said.
The US President picked Indian heroes like actor Shah Rukh Khan and sports icons like Milkha Singh and Mary Kom and Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi to make a point that courage and humanitarian values unify both the nations.
“By what Dr King (Martin Luther King Jr) called content of our character rather than the colour of our skin or the manner in which we worship our god. In both our countries, in India and Amercia, our diversity is our strength,” he said. (With inputs from Agencies)