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Friday, April 29, 2011

First Indian Woman Foreign Minister


Lakshmi N. Menon (1897-1994) was born in Thiruvananthapuram, and is the child of Rama Varma Thampan and Madhavikutty Amma. In 1930 she married Professor V.K. Nandan Menon, who had been the vice chancellor of the University of Travancore and Patna University, as wells as the director for the Indian Institute of Public Administration.


Lakshmi studied at Madras, Lucknow, and London, acquiring high qualifications as an educator. She first taught at Queen Mary’s College, Madras, then the Gokhale Memorial Girls’ School, and lastly the Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow. She switched to law in the late 1920s and practiced until 1935. She was an associate of Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu and Margaret H. Cousins.


She was one of the founding members of the All India Women’s Conference, serving for a period of time as its secretary and president as well as editor of its magazine, Roshni. After Independence she was the principal at the Patna Teachers’ Training College. But Jawaharlal Nehru wanted her to be part of his government, and he persuaded her to allow herself to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Somewhat reluctantly she agreed, and moreover served as Alternate Delegate from India to the United Nations. In 1949-1950 she headed the UN Section on the Status of Women and Children.

The concept of `Mother`s Day` is also Lakshmi Menon`s gift. She thought that Kasturba`s memory should be commemorated as `Mother`s Day`, because Kasturba was `Nation`s Mother-Everybody`s Mother`. According to her, the `Mother`s Day` should be observed not only in the Kasturba Trust but also in every home. She was of the opinion that in every home, the mother works day and night but nobody appreciates her efforts. Therefore, there should be a day which should be called a `Mother`s Day` and on this day the children should rise in the morning, put on new clothes and then go to their mother and bow before her and pay their respects to her. As a token of their affection to their mother, they should offer a flower or a leaf to their mother and humbly say to her, "Mother, how much hard work you put in for us daily. Today, you please take rest. Today, we will offer our services to you. Also, today, we will attend to the daily household duties." Since then, Mother`s Day was observed in this way.

Her two virtues, which influenced others were non-attachment and non-acquisiteness She had no attachment for anything. Any earthly thing never tempted her. She had no desire for anything and accepted anything that came in her way believing that it was her gift from God. She wanted to spread the light of literacy among women, adivasis and Dalits. Her aim was to make all women literate by the year 2000. She passed the last days of her life in the service of the poor and weaker section. She breathed her last on 1994.
 

Returning to Independent India, she served in the Ministry of External Affairs as Parliamentary Secretary from 1952 to 1957, Deputy Minister from 1957 to 1962 and Minister of State to 1967. She toured the world on India’s behalf, taking one such tour at a crucial juncture in India's relations with China, and charged with the task of explaining India's stand to the world. Retiring from political service in 1967, she turned to social work and also to writing, authoring among other things a book on Indian women for the Oxford Pamphlets on Indian Affairs series, published by Oxford University Press. She helped to found the Federation of University Women in India. In recognition of her services, she was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1957.


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