Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit: The first ever woman cabinet minister and first Asian president of UN General Assembly

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was just 16 when she attended her first political meeting. Here's everything you need to know about her fight for freedom.

Despite women making massive strides, politics in India is still largely a much man’s world. Women need to claw their way through it to make a position for themselves. Nevertheless, there have been some women in history who have broken all stereotypes and made a mark for themselves amid the times which have ruled by extreme patriarchy.

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who held so many positions before and after independence, has been a source of inspiration for women through time. Not only was she the first woman to hold a political position in pre-independent India, she was also the first woman to be the President of the United Nations General Assembly. She was also the sister of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India.

A staunch believer in the freedom of India, here’s how she fought for India’s independence:


Early Life

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was born on August 18, 1900 in Allahabad. The daughter of Motilal Nehru, she was named Swarup Kumari Nehru at birth. At a very young age, she took interest in politics. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was just 16 when she attended her first political meeting. She also volunteered in Annie Besant’s Home Rule League.

Education and marriage

She received private home education in India and abroad by governesses and tutors. In 1921, she got married to Ranjit Sitaram Pandit, a Maharashtrian barrister and a fellow Congress worker. After her marriage, she changed her name to Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit from Swarup Kumari Nehru.

Also read: Savitribai Phule, the social reformer who founded India’s first girls’ school

Following the family tradition, she became an active worker in the Indian nationalist movement. She was imprisoned three times by the British authorities in India.

Politics and struggle for freedom

Pandit began her career in politics in her 30s when she joined the All Indian Women’s Conference (AIWC). She pushed the AIWC to reconsider their notion that politics and welfare were mutually exclusive and antithetical.

In 1934, she was elected to the Allahabad Municipal Board. In 1936, she was elected to the Assembly of the United Provinces, and in 1937 became minister of local self-government and public health — the first Indian woman ever to become a cabinet minister.

In 1939, she resigned from her post to protest against the British government’s declaration that India was a participant in World War II. Along with other Congress leaders, she was imprisoned after the Congress launched ‘Quit India’ Resolution of August 1942.

Also read: How Durgabai Deshmukh caught Mahatma Gandhi’s attention at age 12 by fighting for the devadasis

Opposed colonialism and imperialism

After her husband’s death, Pandit travelled to the US and spoke about the problems of colonialism and the impact that imperialism had in colonised countries. She pushed for countries to be held accountable for human dignity, equality, and rights. She believed strongly in equality and condemned the inherent racism that came with colonialism.


  • In 1939, when the British government declared that India was to participate in World War II, she resigned from the Congress office as a protest.

  • She got imprisoned as a participant in the “Quit India movement”.
  • She was the member of the constituent assembly that drafted the Indian Constitution.
  • She was jailed for presiding over a public meeting where the pledge of Independence was taken.
As India celebrates 70 years of independence, we bring you stories of women who were part of the Indian Independence Struggle. You might have heard about some of them but most do not find a mention in our history books or popular memory. These were ordinary women from all walks of life who managed to make extraordinary contributions to the cause of freedom.  This series is our tribute to these women and their exemplary work. We bring you 70 stories of courage and valour over the next one week leading up to 15th August 2017. Write to us, if you have any names to add to this list. Email:

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