The Trailblazing Journey of Chonira Belliappa Muthamma

Women in India were often referred to as the second gender, especially during the initial years after independence. Now, women are serving the nation and are also dominating several sectors of society. Today, we’ll take a look at the inspiring story of a woman who made the nation proud.

Becoming India’s First Woman IFS Officer

Chonira Belliappa Muthamma became India’s first woman IFS Officer and Ambassador/High Commissioner. She was the first woman to clear the Indian Civil Service examination in 1948. C B Muthamma wanted to join the Indian Foreign Service, but the board of directors discouraged her during her interview, stating it is “not suitable for women.” Muthamma stood her ground.

In 1949, she became the first IFS woman officer. C B Muthamma had to sign an undertaking that stated that if she got married, she would have to resign. Several ambassadors rejected her for their gender biases. Later, she joined the Indian Embassy in Paris and realized her peers didn’t want a female colleague.

Breaking Barriers and Filing a Landmark Petition

Later in 1979, she filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC) and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), as she was overlooked for promotion to Grade 1, the highest level of Secretary to the Government of India, because she was a woman. The ministry provided her with the promotion in the hope that the case would be dismissed.

“C B Muthamma’s case was held in 1979, and headed by Justice VR Krishna Iyer. The case emphasized the need to remove sex discrimination in the service sector.”

Early Life and Education

C B Muthamma was born on January 24, 1924, in Karnataka. She lost her father at an early age, and she grew up during India’s freedom struggle period. Her mother made sure to provide her with the best education; she completed her schooling at St Joseph’s Girls School, Madikeri. Her graduation was from Women’s Christian College, Chennai, and she completed her Master’s in English literature from Presidency College, Chennai.

Legacy and Retirement

After her retirement, C B Muthamma became an Indian member of the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues. She passed away on October 14, 2009.


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