US President Barack Obama’s Town Hall address on Tuesday reaffirmed his support in our fight against poverty, misogyny, and unjust discrimination, but also acknowledged the real changes that governments need to take to foster inclusive growth. An exceptionally progressive president, Obama may soon be irrelevant in terms of political power, but his message to the international community is important for a number of reasons.
Drawing parallels between American and Indian history, Obama held up Article 25 of the Indian Constitution as an example of our commitment to an inclusive secularism, one that has frequently been threatened. As a student the freedom to think, and, therefore, to practise, is inalienable. It forms the basis of all academia, and it is important for leaders to remember that unless they enable the youth to pursue diversity of thought, as President Obama clearly does, there will be an accompanying lack of political will in the future.
This is not to encourage freeloading — Obama recently announced a plan to fund community colleges for deserving students in the US, who would have to work for free tuition. Given the scarcity of jobs faced by students in smaller disciplines, the move to reward hard work is a welcome idea.
Students in the early 21st century face a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Jobs and scholarships are no longer confined geographically, but the consequent increase in competition demands an internationalised experience, often out of reach for many.
A striking note in Obama’s speech was his emphasis on environment. The audience was noticeably silent as he talked about the need for both developing and developed nations to adopt alternative energies, but his acceptance of the First World’s liability is significant. The fact that it is no longer one hemisphere or one government’s responsibility to reduce the pressure on the earth’s resources must be similarly accepted by students and political leaderships.
Obama touched briefly on student exchange programmes and assisting in the creation of new universities in India, which was well received by most students in the audience. But deeper constraints like racial and cultural differences often hinder these initiatives.
A more pressing need is that of our domestic leadership to reaffirm their commitment to the fundamental freedoms that form the basis of academic progress. We hope the prime minister and his government recognise this before India’s youth’s energy and enthusiasm turn into apathy and cynicism.
Shruti Narayan is a student of Delhi University.
She attended Barack Obama’s Town Hall address
The views expressed by the author are personal