A 21-gun salute marked the inauguration today of Pratibha Patil, India's 13th President and the 1st woman to hold the mainly ceremonial position. In another 1st, the Times of India reports, the oath was administered to Patil (left) by the new Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, the 1st member of the Dalit class to serve as the country's top judge.
Patil, the 72-year-old governor of the northwestern desert state of Rajasthan, easily had won election Saturday in a vote by the national parliament and state politicians. Apparently, there had never been any doubt that she would win, given the ruling coalition’s support. But her victory may not be the clear victory for women that she and her supporters announce. As in any campaign, the opposition claims she is unworthy of the position, and for reasons beyond simple incompetence (note that the future Belgian prime minister confused the Belgian national anthem with the French “Marseillaise”). Though Patil helped establish a bank for women, it was closed in 2003 due to bad debts and accusations of financial irregularities. The employees' union's suing Patil, claiming that loans went to her brother and other relatives rather than to the poor women for whom they were meant. Other strikes against Patil are that she:
► allegedly tried to shield her brother in a murder inquiry
► may have, while Maharashtra's health minister in 1975, said that people with hereditary diseases should be sterilized
► claimed that in a divine premonition, a long dead spiritual guru told her she was destined for higher office
Now that the premonition has come true, let’s hope Patil’s presidency brings into the public spotlight issues like dowry-related and other violence against women. It's reported that on average, 1 woman is murdered, raped or abused every 3 minutes in India.