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Chonira Belliappa Muthamma: India’s First Female IFS Officer

Chonira Belliappa Muthamma

Chonira Belliappa Muthamma, the inaugural female Indian Foreign Service (IFS) Officer, stood as a trailblazer, breaking through barriers and advocating for gender equality throughout her remarkable career.

Pioneer of India’s First Female IFS Officer

Chonira Belliappa Muthamma, India’s inaugural female Indian Foreign Service (IFS) Officer, emerged as a pioneering figure who not only broke through gender barriers but also championed the cause of gender equality throughout her illustrious career. Her life’s trajectory serves as an inspiring tale of unwavering determination and resilience. Muthamma’s outstanding accomplishments and her invaluable contributions to both the IFS and the advancement of women’s rights continue to be revered and celebrated to this very day.

Early Life and Educational Life

Chonira Belliappa Muthamma came into the world on January 24, 1924, in Virajpet, Coorg. Despite encountering challenges after her father’s untimely passing, she exhibited unwavering determination to pursue her education. Muthamma displayed exceptional academic prowess, achieving honors during her time at Women’s Christian College in Chennai and later earning a Master’s degree in English Literature from Presidency College.

Historic Entry into Indian Civil Services as First Female IFS Officer

In 1948, Muthamma accomplished an extraordinary milestone, emerging as the first woman to successfully navigate the Indian Civil Services examinations. Her remarkable achievement not only placed her at the pinnacle of candidates but also paved the way for her entry into the Indian Foreign Services (IFS), marking the commencement of her illustrious career. Nevertheless, her admission into the service was accompanied by a stipulation, and she was required to sign an agreement stating that she would resign from her position upon marriage.

Trailblazing Diplomatic Career

Muthamma’s diplomatic odyssey as India’s first female IFS officer led her to numerous nations, with assignments in cities like Paris, Rangoon, and London. Her professional trajectory reached its zenith in 1970 when she assumed the role of India’s Ambassador to Hungary, creating a historic milestone as the inaugural woman from the IFS to hold this prestigious position.

Struggle for Gender Equality

In addition to her diplomatic accomplishments, people celebrate Muthamma for her resolute dedication to advancing gender equality within the Indian Civil Services. Faced with a denial of promotion, she boldly contested discriminatory employment regulations, taking her case to court against the Ministry of External Affairs. In a historic Supreme Court ruling in 1979, her case emerged victorious, catalyzing substantial modifications in service regulations. This landmark decision abolished the compulsory government permission prerequisite for women officers’ marriages, representing a pivotal stride toward achieving gender parity.

Legacy and Contributions

Following her retirement in 1982, Muthamma continued her unwavering commitment to society. She dedicated her time to various causes, serving on the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues. Beyond her diplomatic career, she was a fervent environmentalist, a connoisseur of culinary arts, a philanthropist, and an accomplished author. Her noteworthy contributions included co-authoring a book on Kodava cuisine and generously donating land to the Missionaries of Charity for orphanage and educational purposes.

Muthamma’s legacy endures as a trailblazer and advocate for women within the Indian Foreign Services, standing as an emblem of resilience and empowerment. She passed away at the age of 85 in 2009, leaving an indelible mark on India’s diplomatic landscape.

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