Tributes to India’s first woman ambassador

C.B. Muthamma

C.B. Muthamma  

Staff Reporter

The iconic woman who defied all odds to battle gender prejudices, continues to inspire IFS officers

NEW DELHI: Friends and admirers of the country’s first woman ambassador C. B. Muthamma gathered here on Sunday to pay tributes to the iconic woman who defied all odds to battle gender prejudices and continues to inspire generations of woman Indian Foreign Service officers to break the proverbial glass ceiling in their careers.

In an apt dedication to mark her contribution to Indian Foreign Service and Indian womanhood, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was invited to light the lamp for the ceremony organised to celebrate the life, memories and legacy of Ms. Muthamma or “Muthu” as she was affectionately called.

The function was chaired by former Ambassador and Foreign Secretary Eric Gonsalves and attended by other distinguished ambassadors including India’s first woman Foreign Secretary Chokila Iyer and senior officials of the Ministry of External Affairs.

Born in 1924, Ms. Muthamma who hailed from Coorg district in Karnataka, fiercely stood up for values of gender equality and social justice and was fondly remembered by her friends for her “trail blazing and courageous” style of contesting laid down gender stereotypes in her professional life and the associated limitations therein.

Recollecting her association with her, Ms. Rao said: “All women officers in the IFS have been impacted in some way or the other with the legacy left behind by Ms. Muthamma but what stands out was her willingness to take on the system. She always believed that we can overcome our limits and the system therefore has to make space for us to go beyond them. Her intensity of involvement, concern, commitment and attachment to issues of social justice and woman’s empowerment was also unprecedented.”

“She waived away the label of her being the first woman diplomat and was equally blunt about her tag of being a feminist as she insisted that before everything else she was a human being. She admitted being denied several plum assignments on flimsy grounds because of being a woman and it was she who brought focus and national attention to the issue of fundamental justice for woman. Compared with Britain, India overcame this gender ceiling first when it had its first lady ambassador in her in 1970.”

Ms. Rao further stated that today this sort of gender stereotyping could not exist in a system where the Constitution enshrines the Fundamental Right to equality of all citizens irrespective of gender, caste, creed or religion.

She also suggested that Ms. Muthamma’s memory be institutionalised through holding of an annual memorial lecture in her honour or awarding a lady probationer IFS officer for her outstanding or distinguished work performance. “Generations of foreign officers like us should remember her and her contribution to Indian democracy and Indian womanhood,” she added.

Recalling her memories of Ms. Muthamma, Ms. Iyer said: “She faced undisguised discrimination and prejudices all along in her career but she was undeterred and but for her unflinching courage and determination the field of an IFS career for woman would not have been as levelled as it was for us.”

“My association with her began in the MEA hostel where I was witness to her multi-faceted personality that prepared us to carry ourselves as cool, clam and collected public officials. It was a great learning experience to be with her and I cherish her memory and celebrate her friendship and her indomitable spirit,” she added.

Recommended for you