“Every position has advantages and disadvantages. I had an advantage because of the education my father gave me and the opportunities of meeting some great people... But in politics one has to work doubly hard to show one is not merely a daughter but is also a person in her own right” - Indira Gandhi, 1917-1984
Former Prime Minister of India
Voted the Greatest Indian Prime Minister by India Today in 2001, 17 years after her assassination, Indira Gandhi is remembered as a powerful and capable leader, who brought her country to the world’s stage and developed India into a regional superpower.
“Of course, being a woman you have to work twice as hard as a man''
The power wielded by Indira Ghandi and the respect afforded to this former leader appears anachronistic. In 2013, India is wrestling with the treatment of its female citizens on a very public, international stage. Today, Indian women represent only 11% of representatives in government, putting India at an embarrassing 110 th place out of 145 spots. Yet, Indira Gandhi served a record four terms as Prime Minister, three terms from 1966-77 and then again from 1980-84.
Indira Gandhi’s success shows the importance of taking advantage of your surroundings and not letting others take advantage of your gender. She was not always loved, and she faced her fair share of critics, but she continued to do what she believed to be right with a conviction and intelligence that continues to demand respect, irrespective of gender.
Indira was the only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. Thankfully, Indira’s parents did not conform to many of the popular practices when it came to raising their daughter. At the age of 16, Indira received her first marriage proposal from Feroze Gandhi (no relation). Indira’s mother rejected the offer on account of Indira’s young age.
But at this time, 16 years was a perfectly acceptable age for a girl to be married. As recent as 2007, over half of Indian women married before the age of 18. Certain regions, such as the area of Rajasthan have clung to the practice of child marriages, the average age in 2006, being 16.6 years for women. Among other problems, the marriage of women at a young age has been linked to high rates of domestic violence against women and higher rates of infant and maternal mortality. However, the implementation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act in 2007, has served an important role in raising the age of marriage to a national average of 23.3 years in 2010.
Indira Gandhi would later break with social norms again to marry Feroze in 1942, at the age of 24. Her marriage caused both personal and public outcry for two reasons: it was not arranged and it was across religious lines. Arranged marriages are still the norm for Indians, accounting for 90% of marriages in 2009. Beyond this, Feroze was Parsee, while Indira practiced Hinduism.
After attending Oxford for University, Indira served several roles under her father’s government, including Chief of Staff and Congress President. In 1966, she began her first term as Prime Minister. There is no doubt that Indira gained these positions as a result of her father. She took advantage of her position and she proceeded to make a name for herself long after her father’s death in 1964.
Her terms marked many significant advances in India’s international position, militarily, politically, and economically. Among many other accomplishments, she oversaw the establishment of the state of Bangladesh in 1971, after a yearlong war with Pakistan. In 1980, India joined the space race with its launching of a satellite. Her support of this endeavor led to the first Indian astronaut in 1984, on a Soviet spacecraft.
In 1984, Indira ordered an attack on the Golden Temple, the Sikh holy place of worship in the state of Punjab. The attack quelled the Sikh separatist movement at the time, but it also led to her assassination by her two Sikh bodyguards in October of 1984.
In an eerily well-timed speech, Indira said on the night before she was assassinated, “I don’t mind if my life goes in the service of the nation. If I die today, every drop of my blood will invigorate the nation.”
-Kelly (guest blogger)
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