To get the full story of President Obama’s recent visit to my home city, Mumbai, I knew at once to call a reliable source on the ground—my mom. She exclaimed that taxi drivers and families eager to celebrate Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, were bemoaning the restrictions on the roads due to strict security measures in this city of over 21 million.
Despite those grumblings, Obama received a warm welcome on his three day visit, and several news reports lauded the special friendship between Obama and India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. This friendship is certainly to be lauded because of the mutual benefit it could have for two of the world’s largest democracies in terms of security and growth.
However, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that India continues to face severe challenges posed by widespread poverty and unequal access to limited resources: A third of the world’s poorest people live in India, for example, and half of its children are malnourished.
And President Obama did not forget this reality either. In fact, he tried to address this issue on several occasions during his visit—circling back to another personal connection for me. He spoke of his difficult childhood and the difference that education has made in his life at a town hall meeting at my former college, St. Xavier’s College, a brick Gothic structure on a tree-lined street in the heart of Mumbai. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama won the hearts of many students during a couple of school visits and meetings with non-profit organizations, recognizing India’s commitment to development and the eradication of poverty.
As someone who cares about fighting poverty—in my home country and elsewhere—I was glad to see this topic on the agenda.
“With his first official visit to India, President Obama is recognizing what Nehru called our own ‘tryst with destiny’ and the remarkable progress we have made as a nation,” said Nisha Agrawal, head of the recently formed Oxfam India. “More and more Indians have been able to decide the destiny of their lives, demanding that institutions be held responsible to us and the guarantees to use our rights. … [But] we still have a long journey ahead.”