World View: Friends and collaborators

One area in particular in which India and Canada can work together is our efforts to end child, early and forced marriage

Updated - May 23, 2016 07:10 pm IST

Published - October 14, 2014 02:07 am IST

John Baird

John Baird

The film that opened the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last month captured the imagination of Canadians from all walks of life. “Mary Kom” tells the story of a passionate and determined village girl from Manipur, portrayed by Priyanka Chopra, who defeated all expectations to become a five-time world boxing champion. Bollywood’s strong presence at TIFF should be no surprise. Its films are regularly shown in theatres throughout Canada, not least because more than one million Canadians can trace their roots to India. This is a personal relationship. The Indo-Canadian community contributes hugely to our multicultural society and our economic, academic and political life. The community has also brought with it a rich Indian cultural heritage.

We value the long-standing friendship between our nations. >Visiting Delhi this week has reaffirmed to me that it is also a friendship based on common values. We value freedom, pluralism and respect for human rights and the rule of law. We have the same type of government — a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, experiencing both majority and minority governments. We believe that all members of society have a role to play and a stake in the future.

Of course, the future starts with our youth. Canada is proud to host a great number of Indian students at our universities and colleges. These students are part of an exchange of knowledge, and their contributions and innovations are world-class. Together, our investment in this generation is stimulating new and creative ways of making our world better. This includes partnerships on cleaning up the historic, sacred Ganges River. It includes potential partnerships on issues ranging from the waters of Asia to ensuring Internet freedom and cooperation in space.

But this potential will always be limited if one half of a generation has fewer opportunities than the other. As someone once told me, “you cannot run on one leg.” This was a central theme of the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is committed to improving access to education for girls and providing equal opportunities for women. Canada appreciates India’s leadership on this, and we are keen to collaborate in achieving these goals. In this regard, I would like to congratulate Kailash Satyarthi, this year’s joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, for his tireless efforts in favour of children’s rights.

Ending child marriage One area in particular in which we can work together is our efforts to end child, early and forced marriage. These widespread practices threaten the lives and futures of girls and young women around the world, denying their rights, disrupting their access to education and severely jeopardising their health. They also hinder development. When girls are not able to reach their full potential, everyone suffers — girls, their communities and all of society.

We are encouraged that international momentum is building to address this issue, including promising efforts within India through state government programmes like Apni Beti, Apna Dhan, which has led to tangible progress on child marriage in Haryana. Global action is required to end these practices — not just from governments, but also civil society, community and religious leaders, men and boys, and of course, women and girls themselves.

Focus on trade Another focus of this visit is trade. You can feel a real sense of momentum in India’s economy, and I especially welcome the renewed economic development efforts in Jammu and Kashmir, despite the constant threats of terrorism and natural disaster. My colleague, International Trade Minister Ed Fast, is leading a trade delegation here this week. Canada is a trade-intensive nation, with 60 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) and one in five jobs tied to exports. But while our traditional trading partnerships have been with the United States and Europe, we are increasingly becoming a bridge from Asia to those countries. We are at the centre of a unique Venn diagram of trade — with North America on one side through NAFTA, and Europe on the other side through the new Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Not only this, but our Pacific and Atlantic coasts are poised to be reliable ports for stable energy that will continue to unleash economic opportunity in India.

Trade opportunities remind us that both our countries are dependent on an interconnected and interdependent global society. Global trade and prosperity ultimately depends on global stability and security, both of which are feeling more fragile in 2014 than in previous years. I believe the struggle against terrorism is the biggest test of our generation, so I very much welcome the leadership shown by Prime Minister Modi on this issue at the United Nations. I am eager that we work together more on confronting our common challenges in international security. I am very aware that as the world’s largest democracy in a strategically important region, India already plays a leadership role on these issues. For example, Canada and India are both key players in supporting Afghanistan in its establishment of a stable and democratic society. The establishment of a government of national unity is another milestone in Afghanistan’s transition to becoming more secure, prosperous and self-sufficient. Canada recognises the important and constructive role that India, as a regional leader, has taken to help Afghanistan integrate into the region and to increase security and prosperity for all.

Whether it’s values, trade or security, I have high hopes for this relationship between our nations. I'm ambitious for the leadership that Prime Minister Modi has already demonstrated toward paving a path toward a more prosperous future. If we can channel the indomitable spirit of Mary Kom, I’m sure we can take that relationship to even higher heights in the years ahead.

(John Baird is Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister.)

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