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Obama invokes Vivekananda, calls out to ‘Sisters and brothers of India’

US President Barack Obama at Siri Fort Auditorium Courtesy Photo : Indian Express

New Delhi, Jan 27 Recalling the historic address of Indian savant Swami Vivekananda, US President Barack Obama Tuesday began his town hall meeting at the Siri Fort Auditorium with the invocation “Sisters and Brothers of India” and talked about how the philosopher-sage introduced Hinduism and yoga to America in a city that was his hometown.

Address a gathering of close to 2,000 comprising young people, students, NGOs and diplomats as he wound up his three-day India visit, Obama struck a personal chord with the mainly youthful crowd, saying he was very impressed with the daredevilry of the motorcycle contingent riding Royal Enfield bikes and wished he could ride a bike too.

“But the Secret Service does not let me ride motor cycles”, and also remarked that he cannot dance as well as his wife Michelle.

In a speech where he touched on the need for India and the US to work together on climate change, on how the US can partner India in its growth story, in defence cooperation and becoming partners in the security of the Asia-Pacific region, the American president also stressed on the need for the government to uphold the freedom of religion written in the constitution of both the countries.

He recalled Swami Vivekananda and his famous speech in Chicago, exactly 100 years ago, where he brought the house down by addressing the gathering as “Sisters and brothers of America” and said he was going to address the audience likewise.

He then began by addressing “Sisters and brothers of India” to loud applause and then repeated it in the middle of the speech. He also recalled how Vivekananda – a name he had a little difficulty in pronouncing – “brought Hinduism and yoga to the US” and said proudly that the famous address was made “in my hometown Chicago”.

Obama also touched on human rights and the important role of women in building homes, societies. “We must work for a society where everybody has a chance, everybody who can work, and that includes our women,” he said.

He mentioned his wife Michelle who had accompanied him and said :”I am married to a very strong and talented woman. Michelle is not afraid to speak her mind to me.” He added that he is proud of his two daughters. He also said it is necessary to ensure women can walk the streets with safety and security.

He also said he was happy to see so many women commanding contingents in the Republic Day parade and specially mentioned Wing Commander Puja Thakur who commanded the guard of honour accorded to him at Rashtrapati Bhavan Jan 25.

Obama recounted how in his last visit in 2010 he had visited the Humayun’s Tomb and met the families of some labourers working there. The little son of one of them, Vishal, is today a 16-year old, he said, and added he was happy to note that Vishal today studies and dreams of joining the armed forces “an example of the talent that is here”.

The teenager and his family were in the auditorium at the special invitation of the president of the US.

Ahead of his speech, Obama and his wife met Nobel Peace prize winner Kailash Satyarthi at the auditorium as well as some of the NGOs. Satyarthi also received loud applause in the auditorium when he entered with some of his children from the “Bachpan Bachao Andolan” (Save Childhood Movement) NGO.

Obama said he is “optimistic of the future” of the two countries and added that he is “proud” to be India’s partner, “proud to be your friend” and said the US wanted not just to be India’s “natural partner” but its “best partner”.

At the end of the speech, where he was cheered loudly by the audience, Obama and Michelle held hands and mixed with the enthusiastic crowd who clamoured to shake hands with them and take pictures on their cell phones.

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