India elected its first female president, Pratibha Patil, on Saturday. Ms. Patil, 72, was widely expected to win and had won almost two-thirds of the votes cast by federal and state legislators. She had the support of the governing Congress Party and its political allies. The election of a woman to the historically ceremonial post continues an Indian tradition of using the presidency to give a high-profile voice to disadvantaged groups. Past presidents include Muslims and a Sikh, minorities among India’s dominant Hindus.
Women still face widespread discrimination in the workplace and at home. Although one of India’s most powerful leaders was the female prime minister, Indira Gandhi, many Indian families regard daughters as a liability because of a tradition requiring a bride’s family to pay a large dowry of cash and gifts. Consequently, their education and overall health is often neglected, and thus women are still underrepresented in politics.
Ms. Patil’s election will make India the largest country to boast a female head of state. She defeated the current Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, and will replace A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Ms. Patil’s campaign was not easy, however, with opposition politicians and the media scrutinizing her, her past, and her family. Opponents said she lacked the national stature for the post and complained that her only qualification was her loyalty to the powerful Gandhi family.
Ms. Patil received 2489 out of the 2706 votes cast on Thursday. She will be sworn in as India’s 13th president on Wednesday, and will serve for a five-year term.
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