By P.T. Bopanna
The late Chonira B. Muthamma (in picture), the first woman Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer in the country, is perhaps the most inspiring Kodava woman ever who will be remembered for her intellectual prowess and courage.
Born in Kodagu (Coorg) in 1924, she completed her schooling at St. Joseph’s Girl School in Madikeri, and graduated with distinction from the Women’s Christian College in Madras. She did her post-graduation in English literature from Presidency College, Madras. She retired from the IFS in 1982 after 32 years of service.
Muthamma passed the all-India civil services examinations in 1949 and during her diplomatic career, she served in many capacities in Europe, Asia and Africa. In 1970, she was posted as India’s Ambassador to Hungary, the first career woman from within the service to be appointed Ambassador. Her last posting was as Indian Ambassador to The Hague.
She will be remembered most for her successful fight for equality for women in the male-dominated Indian civil services of her time. She moved a petition in the Supreme Court against the government of India on the ground that she had been overlooked for promotion, arguing that the rules governing the employment of women in the service were discriminatory. Her case was upheld in 1979 in a landmark judgment by a three-member Bench headed by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer.
After her 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, Olaf Palme. She continued to write prolifically and on a variety of interests during her retirement. Her writings range from a collection of scholarly articles titled “Slain by the System: India’s Real Crisis” (2003) to a cookbook on Kodava cuisine.
Muthamma remained single. Without much publicity, she donated lakhs of rupees to educational institutions in Kodagu.
She had all the traits of a true Kodavathi and was a source of inspiration to Kodava women. Muthamma passed away in Bangalore in 2009 at the age of 85.
Source: Dateline Coorg by P.T. Bopanna. Rolling Stone Publications, 2010. Paperback copy of the book is available on Amazon: