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Breaking barriers in the Indian Parliament

The new speaker of India's lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, breaks the glass ceiling:

India’s lower house of parliament elected Meira Kumar, a former diplomat and five-term Congress party lawmaker, as speaker, the first time a woman has been chosen to run a male-dominated chamber known for its rowdy debates and frequent walkouts.

Kumar, 64, was the only candidate and had the support of the ruling Congress-led coalition and the alliance led by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. Her appointment as speaker, or presiding officer, was announced by stand-in speaker Manik Rao Gavit in the Lok Sabha, or lower house, in New Delhi today[...]

The speaker conducts the proceedings of the house and occupies a pivotal position in India’s democracy, the world’s largest.

For the most part, female leadership is nothing new for India -- Indira Gandhi was prime minister from 1980 until her assasination in 1984, and her daughter-in-law Sonia has been president of the Congress Party for over a decade. But the Lok Sabha, despite having more female members than ever, is still almost 90 percent male.

While the headlines have focused mostly on gender, though, it is also noteworthy that Kumar is a Dalit--also known as an "untouchable"--a member of the lowest class in India's caste system. With the recent success of a Dalit-led political party, the Bahujin Samaj party, Kumar's election may be a victory for Congress with not one, but two key voter groups.

RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images

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