Our nations are strongest when we see that we are all god’s children, that we are equal in his eyes and worthy of his love. Across our two great countries, we have Hindus and Muslims and Christians, and Sikhs and Jews and Buddhists and so many faiths. And we remember the wisdom of Gandhiji, who said, “For me the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, for they are branches of the same majestic tree.” Our freedom of religion is written into our founding documents. It is part of America’s very First Amendment. Your Article 25 says that all people are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and propagate religion. In both our countries — in all countries — upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of government. But it is also the responsibility of every person. In our life, Michelle and I have been strengthened by our faith. But there have been times when my faith has been questioned by people who don’t know me. Where they said that I adhered to a different religion, as if that were somehow a bad thing.
Around the world we’ve seen intolerance and violence and terror, perpetrated by those who profess to be standing up for their faith but are in fact betraying it. No society is immune to the darkest impulses of man, and too often, religion has been used to tap into those darker impulses, as opposed to the light of god. Three years ago in our state of Wisconsin back in the United States, a man went into a Sikh temple and, in a terrible act of violence, killed six people, Americans and Indians. And 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 practise their faith how they choose, or to practise no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.
The peace we seek in the world begins in human hearts, and will find its glorious expression when we look beyond any differences in religion or tribe and rejoice in the beauty of every soul. And nowhere is that more important than India. Nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld. India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along lines of religious faith; so long as it is not splintered along any lines and is unified as one nation. 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, and every Indian can take pride in the courage of the humanitarian who liberates boys and girls from forced labour and exploitation. That’s what unifies us.
Do we act with compassion and empathy? Are we measured by our efforts, on what Dr [Martin Luther] King called the 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 in America, our diversity is our strength and we have to guard against any efforts to divide ourselves along sectarian lines or any other lines. And if we do that well, if America shows itself as an example of diversity, of its capacity to live together and work together in common effort and common purpose, and India, as massive as it is with so much diversity, so many differences, is continuously able to affirm its democracy — that is an example for every other country on earth. That’s what makes us world leaders. Not just the size of our economy or the number of weapons we have, but our ability to show the way in how we work together, how much respect we show each other.
Sisters and brothers of India. We are not perfect countries, we have known tragedy and we have known triumph. We are home to glittering skyscrapers but also terrible poverty, new wealth but also rising inequality. We have many challenges in front of us. The reason I stand here today and I am so optimistic about our future together is that despite our imperfections, our two nations possess the keys to progress in the centuries ahead. We vote in free elections, we work and we build and we innovate and we lift up the least among us. We reach for heights previous generations could not even imagine. We respect human rights and human dignity, and it is recorded in our constitutions. We keep striving to live up to those ideals. We do these things because they make our lives better and safer and more prosperous, and we also do them because our moral imaginations extend beyond the limits of our lives. We believe that the circumstances of our birth need not dictate the arc of our lives. We are all beautiful flowers from the same garden, branches of the same majestic tree.