President Barack Obama closed out his three-day trip to India Tuesday with a wide-ranging speech that focused on the vast similarities between the world’s largest democracies and a push for human rights.
“My confidence in what our nations can achieve together is rooted in the values we share,” Obama said. “For we may have our different histories and speak different languages. But when we look at each other, we see a reflection of ourselves.”
Obama spoke for about 35 minutes to an enthusiastic crowd of 1,500 at the Siri Fort Auditorium in a speech the White House billed as an address to the people of India. He was greeted with applause and laughter when he tried his hand at speaking Hindi and mentioned the hugely popular Bollywood movie Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, or “the brave heart will win the bride.”
The speech , personal at times, touched on religious freedom and violence against women and listed some of the successes from the trip on trade, clean energy and a nuclear deal. And he again referenced the improbable journey that both he, Obama, a black man raised in a broken home, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a former tea salesman, took to their success.
“India and the United States are not just natural partners—I believe that America can be India’s best partner,” he said.
First Lady Michelle Obama sat in the audience, but joined him on the stage after the speech. They then worked the crowd, as throngs of people tried to grab their hands.
“O-bam-a!” some shouted as the song Oh Mitwa, Sun mitwa from the Bollywood movie Lagaan played. The movie aptly chronicles a farmer who rallies others to oppose an unprecedented land tax imposed in 1893 British-ruled India.
In his speech, Obama said he had been treated differently in his life because of the color of his skin and that other people have questioned his faith.
“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.
He referenced both Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi when he urged religious tolerance. He mentioned the 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc. that killed six people.
“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.
India is largely Hindu, though there are Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists. The nation has seen several acts of religious violence, primarily between Hindus and Muslims.
Just before the speech, the Obamas met with Kailash Satyarthi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his work halting child labor in India. He was accompanied by three children — a 12-year-old rescued from a button factory, an 8-year-old who lost a finger as a farm worker and a 12-year-old girl who has advocated for clean drinking water in school and against child marriages.
Obama’s speech was the final stop on a brief visit to serve as the official guest for India’s Republic Day, which marks the constitution being adopted in 1950. He skipped plans to visit the famous white marble monument, the Taj Mahal, to fly to Saudi Arabia on the way home to pay respects to the royal family following King Abdullah’s death.