Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used his first Independence day speech since taking office as premier to condemn violence against women. He also pledged to take steps to improve the lives of ordinary Indians.
In his address, delivered at India's 17th century Red Fort on Friday, Prime Minister Modi said that as an Indian citizen, his head hung in shame every time he read reports of rape in the country. What was needed, he said, was a basic shift in attitudes.
"After all, a person who is raping is somebody's son," Modi said. "As parents have we asked our sons where he is going? We need to take responsibility to bring our sons who have deviated from the right path, to bring them back."
Anger over India's high rate of violence against women and girls has been growing over the past couple of years, particularly since the fatal gang-rape of a woman student on a bus in New Delhi late in 2012, which gained international attention.
Modi also announced plans to implement measures aimed at improving the everyday lives of ordinary Indians, including one, in which he alluded to another high-profile case this past May, in which two teenage girls were found hanging from a tree after being gang raped in a village in the state of Uttar Pradesch.
They had been going to the toilet in a field near where they lived, as they, like many Indians, did not have such facilities in their homes.
'Still no dignity for women'
"We are in the 21st century and yet there is still no dignity for women as they have to go out in the open to defecate and they have to wait for darkness to fall," the prime minister said.
"People may criticize me for talking about toilets from the Red Fort. But I am from a poor family, I have seen poverty first hand. For the poor to get dignity, it has to start from here," he stressed.
To get to grips with this problem, Modi said he had set a goal for his government of ensuring that within the next four years, every household in India would have a toilet. Every school in India is to be outfitted with toilet facilities within the next year.
Bank accounts for all
He also addressed other problems related to poverty, including the fact that many Indians find themselves at the mercy of money-lenders, because they do not have access to a bank. Highlighting a high rate of suicide among India's farmers, Modi said the government planned to combat the problem, by ensuring that every adult had access to regular financial services.
"We will have a prime minister's people wealth scheme so that even the poorest of the poor can have a bank account of their own," he said.
Modi unveiled none of the sweeping market reforms aimed at boosting India's economy that some had hoped for. However, he did announce that India's central Planning Commission, which has guided the country's socialist-style economy for decades, would be replaced.
"The times have changed since the Planning Commission was created. In a short span of time we will initiative a new institution that will work in place of the Planning Commission," he said.
Friday's address was the 63-year-old Modi's first Independence Day speech since being swept into office in May, in what was India's biggest election mandate in three decades.
pfd/ipj (Reuters, AFP. dpa)