New Delhi India chose its first female president Saturday in an election hailed as a victory for women in a country where gender discrimination is deep-rooted and widespread.
Still, it's not clear how much 72-year-old Pratibha Patil - a lawyer, congresswoman and former governor of the northern state of Rajasthan - can or will do in the mostly ceremonial post to improve the lives of her countrywomen.
Patil won 65.82 percent of the votes cast by national lawmakers and state legislators, said P.D.T. Achary, the secretary general of Parliament. She had the support of the governing Congress party and its political allies, and had been expected to win.
"It is a special moment for us women, and men of course, in our country because for the first time we have a woman being elected president of India," said Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, who hand-picked Patil and was one of the first to congratulate her.
While India has had several women in positions of power - most notably Gandhi and her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi, who was elected to the more powerful position of prime minister in 1966 - women still face rampant discrimination.
Many Indian families regard daughters as a liability due to a tradition requiring a bride's family to pay the groom's family a large dowry of cash and gifts. As a consequence, their education is often neglected, and many don't get adequate medical treatment when ill. If they are widowed, they are considered a burden on their children or families and face even more discrimination.
International groups also estimate that some 10 million female fetuses have been aborted in India over the last two decades as families show a widespread preference for sons.
Hundreds of delighted Congress Party supporters danced in the streets as the results were announced Saturday, banging drums and setting off firecrackers outside her home in New Delhi and in her hometown in the state of Maharashtra.