Chonira Belliappa Muthamma – I.F.S Officer
Chonira Belliappa Muthamma (I.F.S) was born on January 24, 1924 in Virajpet. Sheis an author who wrote the manuscript on her mother as a tribute she owed for all her achievements. Muthamma lost her father, who was a forest officer, when she was nine. Her mother made it a priority to educate their four children well . she was the first women IFS officer in India
24 January 1924
14 October 2009
She did her schooling in St Joseph’s Convent, Madikeri and completed her B.A from University of Chennai.
- The Miller’s Gold Medal from Women’s Christian college Chennai.
- She was awarded six medals from the University and also completed her M.A in English Literature in 1947 and was awarded a Gold Medal for securing distinction.
- She was one of the First Ladies to enter the I.F.S in 1949 and secured the 5th place in the All India civil service examination.
- She Served in Paris, London, Rangoon and later was in charge of I.A.S training college, Shimla. She was sponsored by the Govt. of India for a fellowship in Columbia University in USA in the year 1970-71.
- She was the first Lady career Officer to be posted in the rank of Ambassador, first to Hungary in 1973-76 and then to Ghana in 1976-79 and then to Hague in 1979-82.
After her retirement she was involved in Human Rights initiatives. She is remembered for her successful crusade for gender equality in the Indian Civil Services.
Muthamma is known for her successful crusade for gender equality in the Indian Civil Service. The Indian Ministry for external affairs ministry had not promoted CB Muthamma to the post of foreign secretary. Muthamma had to take the Ministry of External Affairs to court when she was denied promotion to Grade I of the service on grounds of “merit”. She petitioned the government, claiming that she had been overlooked for promotion and that the rules governing the employment were discriminatory. The Ministry promptly promoted her, hoping that the Supreme Court would dismiss the case. The Supreme Court dismissed the case only after ruling that the issues raised by the petitioner could not be dismissed. Her case was upheld in 1979 in a landmark judgment by a three-member Bench. The court impressed upon the government of India “the need to overhaul all service rules to remove the stains of sex discrimination, without waiting for ad-hoc inspiration from writ petitions or gender charity.” This did not deter the then Foreign Secretary, who sent a circular to women officers, threatening to remove them from their posts for seeking “special privileges”. One of these alleged special privileges was the women wanting to be with their husbands. She retired from the IFS in 1982 after 32 years of service.
Justice Krishna Iyer’s judgment of Muthamma’s case described the Foreign Service as ‘misogynist. To show the existence of gender discrimination in the services, Iyer cited Rule 8 (2) of the Indian Foreign Service (Conduct and Discipline) Rules which stated that, “a woman member of the service shall obtain the permission of the government in writing before her marriage is solemnised. Any time after the marriage, a woman member of the Service may be required to resign from Service, if the government is satisfied that her family and domestic commitments are likely to come in the way of due and efficient discharge of her duties as a member of the Service.” The Supreme Court Judgement ensured that henceforth it was not mandatory for women officers in the IFS to seek government permission for getting married.
After retirement she was nominated as the Indian member of the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues set up by the then Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme. Her last major published work was a collection of essays titled Slain by the System published in 2003 by Viveka Foundation.
- Muthamma was also a passionate environmentalist and a culinary enthusiast as well.
- She had also co-authored a book on Kodava cuisine called ‘The Essential Kodava Cookbook’.
- A known philanthropist, she donated a large tract of personal land, amounting to approximately 15 acres in Delhi, to The Missionaries of Charity where a school for orphans has been started.
- The week she died she signed a cheque for a library Gonikoppal High School and for a business management college building in Virajpet in her native place.
She wrote the manuscript on her mother as a tribute she owed for all her achievements she died at the age of 85 at a private hospital in Bangalore in 2009.