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India’s prime minister takes on rape issue in his first Independence Day speech

Anita Decker Breckenridge, President Barack Obama's top-ranking adviser on his vacation to Martha's Vineyard, stands near an American flag in Edgartown, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. Once a driver and secretary for Barack Obama, Anita Decker Breckenridge now is the president’s top-ranking adviser on his vacation to Martha's Vineyard, responsible for a high-powered operation that's a far cry from their humble early journeys together.  Breckenridge was an early hire for Obama's U.S. Senate campaign in 2003. She'd drive him across Illinois in search of votes, arguing over what radio station to listen to and keeping their eyes peeled for a Subway or Panera Bread to get lunch. The times have changed. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Anita Decker Breckenridge, President Barack Obama's top-ranking adviser on his vacation to Martha's Vineyard, stands near an American flag in Edgartown, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. Once a driver and secretary for Barack Obama, Anita Decker Breckenridge now is the president’s top-ranking adviser on his vacation to Martha's Vineyard, responsible for a high-powered operation that's a far cry from their humble early journeys together. Breckenridge was an early hire for Obama's U.S. Senate campaign in 2003. She'd drive him across Illinois in search of votes, arguing over what radio station to listen to and keeping their eyes peeled for a Subway or Panera Bread to get lunch. The times have changed. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Breaking his silence on rising sexual assaults against women, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday told parents to raise their sons properly during a wide-ranging and highly anticipated first Independence Day speech.

Although he spoke extensively about women’s safety during the election campaign, Modi had remained largely silent on the issue after assuming office in May. On Friday, he said stringent laws will address the crimes, but he also reminded families of their responsibility to raise their sons well.

“Today as we hear about the incidents of rapes, our head hangs in shame,” Modi said. “I want to ask parents, when your daughter turns 10 or 12 years old . . . ask: ‘Where are you going? When will you return?’ Do 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 would decide to put as many restrictions on their sons as they do on their own daughters.”

Modi, who won a resounding victory in elections held in April and May, departed from the scripted speeches of his predecessors and spoke extemporaneously for an hour, without the usual bulletproof glass cage, at the 17th-century Mughal monument in New Delhi known as the Red Fort.

He asked Indian families to “stop killing daughters in the womb” in their desire for sons and scolded them for the growing imbalance in the country’s sex ratio.

Modi, 63, is the first prime minister to be born after India gained independence from Britain in 1947, and he spoke on a wide range of social and economic issues plaguing the country, calling for more school toilets, less trash and Chinese-style global manufacturing.

Having gained popularity as a tough, economic modernizer in his previous role as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, Modi took over as prime minister with a promise to fix India’s ailing economy by boosting investment and jobs while curbing inflation and corruption.

On Friday, he called on global businesses to bring their factories to India.

“I tell the world: Come, make in India. Sell anywhere, but manufacture here. We have the skill and talent,” he said. “Our dream should be to see ‘Made in India’ signs in every corner of the world.”

Modi also promised to do away with the decades-old bureaucracy called the Planning Commission, a key relic of India’s socialist past, and replace it with one that fits the nation’s 21st-century economic aspirations.

He then urged Indian companies and lawmakers to allocate more of their budgets to building separate school toilets for boys and girls.

In recent months, the practice of open defecation in villages has been cited in public debate as undermining women’s dignity and safety. Modi also cited the lack of separate school toilets as a primary reason for girls dropping out of school.

The best gift Indians can give their revered leader from the freedom movement, Mohandas Gandhi, he added, is to make cities and villages trash-free.

“You would wonder why I am talking about cleanliness and toilets from the Red Fort, but I speak from the heart,” he said.

Modi, who rose from humble beginnings as the son of a tea vendor, said he is “an outsider” to New Delhi and its elite lifestyles.

Nearly three months after he took office, the new premier’s popularity has not waned. A national mood survey by the polling agency Nielsen in collaboration with the Hindi news channel ABP News on Thursday showed that about 63 percent of respondents think Modi is the best leader for the country, even though inflation and corruption remain concerns.

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