First woman IFS officer Muthamma dies


Bangalore : C.B. Muthamma, the first woman Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer, died here Wednesday, her family members said. She was 85.

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She passed away in a private hospital where she was undergoing treatment, the family members said.

Chonira Belliappa Muthamma was born Jan 24, 1924, in Kodagu, a beautiful hill station and land of coffee plantations, about 260 kms from here. She had served as ambassador and high commissioner to a number of countries during her career that started in 1949. She retired in 1982.

Muthamma had fought against gender bias in the foreign service and had taken the Indian government to court in 1979 for bypassing her for the coveted foreign secretary’s post.

Though the Supreme Court dismissed the petition, it noted that there was truth in Muthamma’s contention that there was gender discrimination in the foreign office.

Muthamma brought out in the form of a book essays she had written over the years. Titled ‘Slain by the System -India’s Real Crisis’, it was published in 2003.

She wrote in the book: “Looking back, I cannot help but conclude that my tenure with the external affairs ministry was one long tussle with the anti-women bias.”

She had also co-authored a book on Kodava cuisine.

“She had to face all the prejudices against women in Indian society, which got reflected in the ministry,” said Arundhati Ghose, who stunned the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty conference in Geneva in 1996 with the famous words “Not Now, Not Ever” to reiterate India’s opposition to signing the treaty.

Ghose told IANS in New Delhi that “earlier, there was a rule that a woman officer who got married had to resign. Further, the spouse of a foreign service officer was termed a ‘wife’, meaning that there could only be male officers.”

“She did a lot for women officers,” Ghose said, adding: “Her contemporary officers were very fond of her. She had a reputation of being a very good officer, a bit crusty, but very, very good.”