India was set to name its first female president today in a symbolic victory for Indian women.
Pratibha Patil, the 72-year-old candidate of the governing Congress party and its political allies, was virtually assured victory with the coalition commanding a majority among the national lawmakers and state legislators who voted in Thursday’s presidential poll.
The election of a woman to the largely ceremonial post continues an Indian tradition using the presidency to bolster disadvantaged communities.
Hindu-majority India has had three Muslim presidents, including incumbent A P J Abdul Kalam, since winning independence from Britain in 1947.
It has also had a president from the minority Sikh community, and Kalam’s predecessor, K R Narayanan, came from the bottom of the society’s complex social hierarchy.
While India has had several women in positions of power – most notably Indira Gandhi, who was elected prime minister in 1966, and her daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi, who currently heads the Congress party – many women still face rampant discrimination.