Obama described Emani and 12 other recipients of the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal as "a remarkable group of Americans," who were "united by the choices they made" to help others in need.
"The 13 Americans that we honour today have all faced that ... moment when you see a neighbour in need and you have to ask yourself the question. They come from different backgrounds and they've devoted their lives to different causes, but they are united by the choice that they've made.
"They could have made excuses for doing nothing. Instead, they chose to help," Obama said yesterday while presenting the prestigious civilian award at an impressive ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
Emani, 51, who died in 2009 in a car accident, broke a cultural taboo by speaking out about domestic violence and helping other women in abusive relationships.
Amid applause, Sujata and Nirmala Emani accepted the award on behalf of their mother.
"Vijaya Emani became a role model for victims of domestic abuse because of her strength and determination in overcoming domestic abuse in her own life. She broke a long held taboo in the Indian-American community by speaking out about the issue publicly," a White House announcement on her said.