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Thank you very much for the very kind introduction, Salman.
It is a great pleasure for me to be here at the American Center in New Delhi, which like its counterparts all over the world is an incredible bridge between our cultures. It is a tremendous source of pride to us that over 200,000 visitors came here last year to learn more about the United States and our government’s policies.
I am also very grateful to all of you for coming here today.
As the world’s largest democracy of 1.2 billion people, India has enormous strategic importance for the region, for the international system, and of course for the United States. With its long and proud history, India is widely admired in the United States, and the foundation of the friendship between our countries is unshakable.
It has been exciting to be here in your country and experience first-hand India’s enormous energy and vibrancy. You can see it everywhere: in India’s booming technology sector, in the rich and diverse cultural traditions of its many religious and ethnics groups, in its active civil society which includes the most recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Kailash Satyarthi, and in the hopes and aspirations of its people.
My visit here comes at a crucial time with India’s new government on the verge of a reform push to further strengthen the country’s economic development, to achieve greater openness as a society, and to further enhance its role as a regional leader. There is a sense of progress in the air, and we in the United States stand ready to partner in your efforts to fully realize your enormous potential through exchange of expertise and continued dialogue.
In the United States, we consider an open and participatory society to be a vital element of our national experiment, a great strength that requires constant effort on our part, but continues to propel the United States’ international leadership. In our experience, a vibrant and vocal civil society sector is the strongest underpinning of progress because it enhances the voices and harnesses the talents of all citizens. Similarly, India also recognizes that openness and social inclusion is central to the country’s future – as captured by your leadership’s vision, “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” (“Together with All, Development for All”).
It is important that India and the United States go beyond increasing the efficiency in the productive sector, to achieving higher outputs of goods and services, and the exploration of new export markets. These efforts must be supported by a national discussion with civil society to explore solutions to societal challenges. Otherwise, these social challenges will threaten to hold back development. India already has mandated corporate social responsibility goals, and its e-governance initiative is a modern way of keeping citizens involved and abreast of government policies and initiatives. Through international fora, such as the Global Issue’s Forum and the U.S.-India Women’s Empowerment Dialogue, we can further strengthen the exchange of best practices.
Many of you have taken on a responsibility to represent peoples’ voices by working in civil society organizations of all stripes. You have chosen, in Mahatma Gandhi’s words, to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” This is an enormous gift to India’s future, and the United States stands with you who are seeking to ensure that India’s dynamic growth includes all of its population.
The best way to ensure the full contribution of all sectors of society is the development of real opportunities for all — including members of historically marginalized communities – scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, people with disabilities, religious minorities, or the poor, for example. They all should join in building a stronger society. Governments enable this by encouraging development of skills by investing in education and job training opportunities.
Any participatory economic process needs to be enshrined by the equal protection under the rule of law.
At the State Department, I am responsible for a broad array of international policy issues from human rights to civilian security, law enforcement and conflict prevention. There is a common thread running through my responsibilities — the importance of just, transparent, and accountable rule of law, without which all of these goals are undermined.
Let me be clear—strengthening the rule of law does not mean giving people in power additional tools to enforce their will. The rule of law must be built on laws and institutions to protect rights for all and, where protection fails, giving citizens the ability to access and pursue justice. It is the antidote to discriminatory traditions and customs, which undermine overall progress toward peace, stability and growth.
Some citizens face challenges that require special attention, and I would like to speak for a few moments about some of those challenges.
Many women and girls still confront inordinate obstacles to achieving the same opportunities and respect that their male counterparts enjoy. Many will never enjoy true economic opportunity because they face so many other related obstacles. In particular, girls are frequently denied education and are thus trapped in a cycle of financial dependency. This may reflect discriminatory customs such as requiring them to amass a dowry for marriage or otherwise contribute to family income, or even simply barring girls from participating in life outside the home.
Discrimination against females is a challenge that both our nations face in different ways. In the United States, the more highly educated will have more women than men, but they will still face obstacles because of their gender. As President Obama recently said: “here’s the challenge […], our economy and some of the laws and rules governing our workplaces haven’t caught up with that reality […]. So while many women are working hard to support themselves and their families, they’re still facing unfair choices, outdated workplace policies. That holds them back, but it also holds all of us back. We have to do better, because women deserve better. And when women do well, everybody does well.”
Based on our shared values, the U.S. And India can be partners in promoting women’s empowerment around the world. This is already happening. The U.S. Agency for International Development is partnering with India’s Self Employed Women’s Association to provide training for Afghan women in communications, professional and vocational skills. Through this program, India’s enterprising women are working across boundaries toward economic empowerment that has the potential to change South Asia and the world.
Another global challenge erodes girls’ ability to be educated and women’s ability to contribute to society is forced or early marriage – when children in their teens or younger are denied the opportunity to develop fully through childhood. Early marriage affects a girl’s health and wellbeing, and it also often denies her a full education. During my visit, I am seeking insights from a range of civil society and government experts in India who work on this issue as I seek to understand how India can best harness and empower its enormous human capital.
These are, sadly, not the only challenge for women. Both our nations have recently engaged in impassioned, public — and private — discussions about the prevalence of gender-based violence and the need for all of society to take action to stop it.
Media reports document horrifying cases of rape, domestic violence, sex trafficking, and other forms of gender-based abuse that occur in both our countries and around the world. And many women who are abused fail even to report their experience to police, family members, or advocates—often because they fear it will yield nothing, or in some cases, may expose them to further abuse and stigmatization. In some places in the United States, as well as in India, forensic resources go unused or are unavailable, leaving women who have bravely reported their experiences without key evidence that could help ensure justice.
Entrenched norms and attitudes regarding women lie at the core of the problem. President Obama has spoken out about sexual violence within the US armed forces and on American college campuses. He has called upon Americans to address individual and collective attitudes about gender and violence to end the abuses. We applaud Prime Minister Modi’s efforts to address gender-based violence and look forward to continued momentum on this critical issue.
This is another area where the United States and India share an active partnership. The Delhi State Government and UN Women have partnered with the U.S. government to implement the Safe Cities program in New Delhi — an innovative program that adopts a gender empowerment lens on the issue of urban planning and infrastructure development. The goal of our collaboration is for girls and women around the world to reclaim their right to public spaces.
In addition to reducing incidents of gender based violence, it is essential to implement legal or administrative reforms to ensure dignity and justice for survivors. This is both a matter of rules and of institutions – in particular the professionalism of those within the criminal justice sector to respect the gravity of crimes of sexual violence. This, too, is an enormous challenge for countries committed to upholding human rights and realizing the full potential of all their citizens.
As the United Stats and India identify best practices within our own societies, we share ideas about how best to address these challenges – to deter perpetrators and strengthen stigmatization of their criminal behavior, to train police officers on the appropriate handling of gender-based violence cases, and to strengthen institutional capacity for protecting victims and prosecuting offenders.
It seems self-evident that societies with such vast economic potential in women cannot leave half their population behind if they are to reach their full economic, social, and political potential. There are simply too many women whose contributions as citizens, entrepreneurs, mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters cannot be fully realized because of violence, prejudice, and ignorance. Together, government, academia, civil society and the private sector can provide solutions to many of the critical challenges facing women and girls.
Let me offer another observation about the rule of law. It must extend to the protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. As the United States has repeatedly raised our voice about this concern around the world, we sometimes hear the response that LGBT issues must be subordinated to cultural and historical preferences. But we are not talking about cultural issues—we are talking about people. People should not be subjected to violence, abuse, or discrimination simply because of the peaceful expression of who they are.
That was as true for African Americans in the United States during the Civil Rights movement as it is for LGBT persons in the U.S. and around the world now. My country’s most searing human rights struggles have involved ending baseless discrimination around issues of identity. That is why combating discrimination and violence against vulerable minorities, including ethnic and religious minorities, has become a key concern at home and a core tenet of our diplomacy.
As you might expect, then, we—along with many others in the international community and your own civil society —are closely following the developments around the criminal status of homosexuality in India and urging that laws must not discriminate against members of the LGBT community or perpetuate a climate that risks fueling violence toward them.
True rule of law cannot be legalized persecution or prejudice. True rule of law is based on the fundamental equality of persons before the law.
Yet — and this is my final point about rule of law — even societies with the best laws on the books can be undermined by the corrosive effects of corruption. Corruption strips away protection of rights and access to justice that a democratic state is supposed to provide for its citizens. Corruption is not easily rooted out—neither in India, nor in the United States—but we have been heartened by the aims of the new government and civil society partners in India to tackle it head on. India has made some significant strides in this regard with its landmark Right to Information Law empowering everyday citizens with the information they need to improve service-delivery and enhance economic efficiency. Now the architects of the Right To Information movement in India – Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey – are helping other leaders apply this approach through the civil society steering committee of the international Open Government Partnership. Another outstanding example for the use of technology in strengthening democracy and accountability is the web site “ipaidabribe.com,” which enables citizens to share first-hand experiences and helps promote anti-corruption reform in government agencies.
President Obama spoke in September at the United Nations to the American commitment to advancing open, transparent and accountable government at home and abroad. He challenged governments to open up and share data to enable entrepreneurs to pursue new innovations and businesses create jobs. Discussing solutions to these challenges not only furthers the participatory openness of a society to every sector, but it further cements and strengthens it. As you are undertaking these important discussions, the United States will stand shoulder to shoulder with you. We are neither perfect, nor infallible, nor do we have the answers to all these challenging issues. We are, however, deeply committed to finding the answers together and to learning from the discussions that led to them in both of our countries. Thank you.