- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

President Obama on Tuesday made a forceful case for gender and religious equality in India and used examples from his own life — including claims that he’s secretly a Muslim — to make his point.

Speaking at the government-run Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi, the president said India must learn to treat both women and religious minorities equally. India is nearly 80 percent Hindu but also has significant Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist and Christian populations.

Mr. Obama said his own life offers an example of how some view one religion more favorably than others and seek to divide people along lines of faith.

“There were moments in my life where I’ve been treated differently because of the color of my skin,” he said. “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.”

Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are Christians, though unsubstantiated rumors that they are Muslim still persist.

In his final public appearance in India on Tuesday, Mr. Obama offered his message on religious and gender equality after meetings with India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who took office last May.

Mr. Modi in 2005 was denied a a visa to the U.S. after religious riots resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 Muslims in the state where he was the highest elected official.

He has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the riots and since taking power has spoken about the need for equality, particularly for women. Mr. Obama encouraged the Indian leader to make full and complete equality a reality for all the Indian people.

“Every woman should be able to go about her day — to walk the street or ride the bus — and be safe and be treated with the respect and dignity that she deserves,” the president said, referencing the 2012 gang rape of a woman on a New Delhi bus.

“If nations really want to succeed in today’s global economy than they can’t simply ignore the talents of half of their people,” he added.

Mr. Obama left India on Tuesday and will travel to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he and other top U.S. officials will pay respects to the late King Abdullah, who died last week.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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