Pratibha Patil: The Lawyer And Politician Who Became The Most ‘Merciful’ President Of India

Written by Chaitra Krishnan, MA (Journalism & Mass Communication)  • 

In a nation that is crammed with misogyny and patriarchy, it’s not an easy task for a woman to enter politics and excel in it. In spite of the fact that the male and female literacy rates are as apart as the earth and the moon, the hard-earned achievements of women in India often get lost in the crowd. Given that this is the scenario that has been prevailing in our country for decades, becoming its first woman president is not an easy task. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, the 12th President of India is the first and only woman to have held this position.

Even today, girls stay back at home to learn household “duties” while their brothers get to go to school. Most of them are trained by their parents to be a good wife and a good mother and nothing else. It’s unfortunate that an Indian woman has to endure injustice to the extremes in order to voice her opinion and make a life for herself. Amidst all this, stories of women like Pratibha Patil is a true testament to the fruitfulness of hard work and determination. Her journey from an ordinary girl from Maharashtra to the head of the nation is purely inspiring.

Early Life And Education

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Pratibha Patil was born in 1934 to Narayan Rao Patil in a small village called Nadgaon in the Jalgaon district of Maharashtra. We can very well say that she had some luck in her kitty as her father was a local politician as well as a prosperous Rajput. However, that wouldn’t have helped her unless her father was a man of progressive thoughts like he was. He was the most important source of inspiration and encouragement for Pratibha to enter politics.

Pratibha’s early education was limited within Jalgaon where she completed her schooling in R. R. Vidyalaya and college from Moolje Jaitha College. She rose to popularity among her peers in college as she excelled in sports like table tennis and winning numerous inter-college competitions. She was crowned “College Queen” of Moolje Jaitha College in 1962. The same year, she also won the assembly election. Needless to say, it was all going uphill from this point. After completing her post graduation in Political Science and Economics, Pratibha went to Mumbai to pursue her degree in law from the Government Law College.

Political Career And Achievements

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Once she completed her degree, Pratibha Patil began to practice law at Jalgaon District Court. During this time, she started taking interest in social issues and difficulties faced by women in our society. At a relatively tender age of 27, Pratibha started her political career by getting elected to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. She won in the Jalgaon constituency as well as in Muktinagar constituency for consecutive elections creating a memorable position in the heart of the public. During this period, she handled the ministership of various departments such as Education, Urban Development and Housing, Public Health and Social Welfare, and Cultural affairs.

Her first big step into national politics was when she became a Member of the Parliament in the Rajya Sabha during the period between 1985 and 1990. In 1991, she was elected to the Lok Sabha when she won the seat from Amaravati constituency. Pratibha’s husband, Devisingh Ramsingh Shekhawat was the ex-Mayor of Amaravati which provided her an added advantage in the elections. She was always loyal to Indira Gandhi and she stuck with the Gandhi-Nehru family even during the emergency of 1975. This is one of the major reasons why the Congress party brought her back even after her political retirement and made her the Governor of Rajasthan in 2004.

Pratibha Patil swore to power as India’s first woman President in 2007, following the steps of APJ Abdul Kalam. Since Kalam was considered to be among the most loved and popular Presidents, Pratibha had a huge challenge ahead of her. She proved to be as bold as she was when she rejected the “Rajasthan Religious Freedom Bill 2006” during her time as the Governor of Rajasthan.

The “Merciful” President

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Even if Pratibha Patil set an example for bold leadership, she was criticized and taunted as the “merciful” President for commuting the death sentences of 35 petitioners to life. She was indeed a merciful leader who worked for the upliftment of the weak throughout her political career. She established the Vidya Bharati Shikshan Prasarak Mandal along with her husband under which various schools and colleges of Maharashtra function. She also played a key role in establishing an Industrial Training School for the visually challenged. Her involvement in running the school for poor children of Vimukta Jamatis and Nomadic Tribes is also appreciable.

Pratibha Patil always took a keen interest in supporting women since the very beginning of her career. She set up a trust that runs working women hostels in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Pune. She established a co-operative sugar factory named Sant Muktabai Sahakari Sakkar Karkhana and also a co-operative bank- Pratibha Mahila Sahakari Bank.

We hope that the success stories of iconic iron women like Pratibha Patil inspire the younger generation to actively participate in the governance of our country. It’s just a matter of time before we see another woman President in charge. Did Pratibha Patil’s story inspire you? What do you think about the involvement of women in Indian politics? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

Banner Image Credits: iamangoyal_007 / Instagram

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