India's First Woman President Vows Fight for Women, Unborn Girls

India's new President Pratibha Patil greets traditionally after her swearing-in ceremony at the parliament in New Delhi.(AFP Photo)

India's first woman president was sworn into office Wednesday and promised to fight for the rights of women and an end to the widespread practice of aborting female foetuses.

Pratibha Patil, 72, also said the country's hundreds of millions of poor should reap the benefit of India's blistering economic growth of over nine percent.

"India stands at the threshold of a new era of progress, and it should be a combined endeavour. We must ensure that every section of society are equal partners in the development process," she said.

"Our combined endeavour should be to ensure that the rate of economic growth is sustained and it is socially inclusive," Patil said after taking the oath as India's first woman head of state since independence from the British 60 years ago.

"A developing country of over a billion people should live together and move forward together," she said as she assumed the largely ceremonial position.

Under India's constitution, the prime minister wields executive power but the president plays a role in forming governments at state and federal levels, making the post hotly contested in India's fractured political landscape.

Patil, a diminutive bespectacled figure, was plucked from relative political obscurity by Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of former premier Rajiv Gandhi and the powerful head of the ruling Congress party.

She was elected by federal and state legislators last week, and replaces missile scientist Abdul Kalam, a 72-year-old respected for his populist style.

After the ceremony, Patil was driven in a black stretch limousine accompanied by horse-mounted bodyguards to the presidential palace, where she was given a 21-gun salute.

Italian-born Gandhi had said Patil's election would be a historic moment for the world's largest democracy and second-most populous nation, and boost the cause for women in a country where many face massive sexual discrimination.

Source: AFP

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