From rape to the economy, Indian PM ranges wide in Independence Day speech

Narendra Modi's first Independence Day speech as India's leader showcased the government’s domestic goals, but stayed away from relations with Pakistan.

Saurabh Das/AP
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation on the country's Independence Day in New Delhi, India, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014.

In a wide-ranging speech, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed sexual assault, sanitation, and corruption and in his extemporaneous, hour-long Independence Day remarks.

Addressing the series of rapes and violent assaults that gained the world’s attention, Mr. Modi stressed the need for parents to educate and raise their sons to act in a respectful manner.

Today as we hear about the incidents of rapes, our head hangs in shame. I want to ask parents when your daughter turns 10 or 12 years old, you ask, ‘Where are you going? When will you return?’ Do the parents dare to ask their sons, ‘Where are you going? Why are you going? Who are your friends?’ After all, the rapist is also someone’s son. If only parents decide to put as many restrictions on their sons as they do on their own daughters.”

To combat problems of rape and sexual assault, Modi highlighted root causes that can be fixed through government and citizen action. He urged lawmakers to use money to construct separate bathrooms for girls and boys at schools, noting that this would help keep more girls in school. He also spoke of India’s skewed sex ratio, urging parents and doctors not to abort female fetuses.

The speech also served to outline goals Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plan to undertake. He stressed the need for better sanitation and cleaner cities, most likely addressing a recent study that has shown probable links between poor sanitation and malnourishment among children in India. 

Tackling India’s economy, Modi called on global businesses to come to India for manufacturing. “Our dream should be to see the ‘Made in India’ signs in every corner of the world,” he said.

He also announced plans to make bank accounts available to every Indian family, though The New York Times reports that people are skeptical of the proposal's chances for success “in the absence of good jobs and higher wages.”

In what the Hindustan Times called a “surprise announcement,” Modi said he was going to do away with the country’s Soviet-style Planning Commission, which directed India's economy, and replace it with a modern institution. 

Unlike his predecessors, Modi did not use the speech as an opportunity to criticize or critique relations with Pakistan. He also did not use the clear bullet-proof shield favored by other prime ministers.

The BBC’s Geeta Pandey notes that while the speech was well-received, it gave critics an opportunity to “question his performance in the months since taking over as prime minister and his government’s failure to deliver reforms to overhaul the economy going through the worst slowdown in two decades.”

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