C.B. Muthamma, India’s first woman career diplomat and first woman ambassador, died in the early hours of Wednesday in a Bangalore hospital. She was 85.
Opting for the foreign service after she passed the civil services examinations in 1949, Ms. Muthamma served her diplomatic career with distinction in many capacities in Europe, Asia and Africa. In 1970 she was posted as India’s Ambassador to Hungary, the first woman from within the service to be appointed Ambassador. Later, she served in Ghana and her last posting was as Indian Ambassador to The Hague.
Ms. Muthamma will be most remembered for her successful crusade for equality for women in the male-dominated Indian civil services of her time. She brought a petition against the government of India on the grounds that she had been overlooked for promotion because she was a woman, arguing that the rules governing the employment of women in the service were discriminatory.
Her case was upheld in 1979 in a landmark judgement by a three-member bench headed by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer. The court impressed upon the Government of India “the need to overhaul all service rules to remove the stains of sex discrimination, without waiting for ad-hoc inspiration from writ petitions or gender charity.”
Born in Virajpet in Coorg in 1924, Ms. Muthamma completed her schooling in St.Joseph’s Girl School in Madikeri, and graduated from the Women’s Christian College in Chennai (then Madras) with a triple gold medal. She did her post-graduation in English Literature from Presidency College, Chennai. She retired from the IFS in 1982 after 32 years of service. Following this she was nominated the Indian member of the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues set up by the then Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme.
Ms. Muthamma continued to write prolifically and on a range of interests during her retirement, from a collection of scholarly articles entitled “Slain by the System: India’s Real Crisis” (2003) to a cookbook on Kodava cuisine.