Breaking the glass ceiling

Vijayalakshmi Pandit was elected the first lady President of the eighth session of the United Nations Organisations General Assembly on September 15, 1953

Published - September 14, 2017 05:00 pm IST

VIJAYALAKSHMI PANDIT: Diplomat and politician. Photo: The Hindu Photo Library

VIJAYALAKSHMI PANDIT: Diplomat and politician. Photo: The Hindu Photo Library

Vijayalakshmi Pandit was Pandit Jawahrlal Nehru’s younger sister, and aunt of Indira Gandhi. She was born in Allahabad to Motilal Nehru and Swaruprani Thussu on August 18, 1900. An Indian diplomat, she served as Jawaharlal Nehru’s envoy to the Soviet Union, the U.S., and the United Nations (UN).

She always leant towards the freedom movement and as a part of her family tradition, she too joined the Indian nationalist movement and was imprisoned thrice by the British authorities in India.

In 1937, Pandit was elected to the provincial legislature of the United Provinces and she became the minister of the local self governing body. She became a minister for local self-government and public health (1937–39), the first Indian woman to hold a cabinet portfolio.

Extensive travel

In 1946, she was re-elected to the Constituent Assembly from the United Provinces (It was a province of British India, which came into existence on January 3, 1921 as a result of the renaming of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh). After India became independent, she entered the diplomatic service and was the country’s ambassador to Soviet Union from 1947 to 1949. She then travelled to the U.S. and Mexico for two years.

Pandit was in Ireland between 1955-1961 when she came to the U.K. as the Indian High Commissioner, after which she travelled to Spain from 1958-1961.

From 1946-1968 she headed the Indian delegation at the United Nations. And it was during this tenure that she became the first woman President of the United Nations General Assembly at its eighth session

Pandit was the first woman to have achieved this position and power, and even the United Nations agreed that, “Nobody could have a greater claim for this high office than Mrs. Pandit, if only for the reason that she is the senior-most in point of UN service among leaders of member delegations attending the present session.”

In fact, she has been associated with the UN right from its second session. As the President, she had additional responsibilities with no salary given to her for accepting this post. She was required to understand the roles and procedures of the Assembly, its functions and shortcomings.

After her tenure, she continued to serve as the Governer of Maharashtra and retired in 1977 during the time Indira Gandhi was ruling the country. She stayed in Dehradun and passed away in 1990.

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