Rajkumari Bibiji Amrit Kaur DStJ (2 February 1889 – 6 February 1964) was the first woman World Health Assembly President (India) in 1950.

She was an Indian activist and politician. Following her long-lasting association with the Indian independence movement, she was appointed the first Health Minister of India in 1947 and remained in office until 1957. During her tenure, Kaur ushered in several healthcare reforms in India and is widely remembered for her contributions to the sector and her advocacy of women's rights. Kaur was also a member of the Indian Constituent Assembly, the body that framed the Constitution of India.

Amrit Kaur was born on 2 February 1889 in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (then United Provinces), India. Kaur was born to Raja ‘Sir’Harnam Singh Ahluwalia, the younger son of the Raja of Kapurthala and his wife Pricilla Golaknath(Rani Lady Harnam Singh). Raja Sir Harnam Singh left Kapurthala after the premature death of his elder brother led to a struggle for succession to the throne. Amrit Kaur was brought up in an Anglican Christian environment as her father was converted into Christianity and her mother was a Bengali Christian. She had her early education in Sherborne School For Girls in Dorset, England, and had her college education at Oxford University. After completing her education in England, she returned to India. [1]

After her return to India from England, Kaur became interested in the Indian independence movement. Her father had shared close association with Indian National Congress leaders including Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who often visited them. Kaur was drawn to the thoughts and vision of Mahatma Gandhi, whom she met in Bombay (Mumbai) in 1919. Following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre later that year, when the British forces shot and killed over 400 peaceful protestors in Amritsar, Punjab, Kaur became a strong critic of the British rule in India. She formally joined the Congress and began active participation in India's independence movement while also focusing on bringing about social reform.[2] Kaur co-founded the All India Women's Conference in 1927.[2] She was later appointed its secretary in 1930, and president in 1933. She was imprisoned by the British authorities for her participation in the Dandi March, led by Mahatama Gandhi in 1930. Kaur went to live at Gandhi's ashram in 1934 and adopted an austere lifestyle despite her aristocratic background.[2] As a representative of the Indian National Congress, in 1937 she went on a mission of goodwill to Bannu, in the present-day Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The British Raj authorities charged her with sedition and imprisoned her. The British authorities appointed her as a member of the Advisory Board of Education, but she resigned from the position following her involvement with the Quit India Movement in 1942. She was imprisoned by the authorities for her actions during the time.[3] She championed the cause of universal suffrage, and testified before the Lothian Committee on Indian franchise and constitutional reforms, and before the Joint Select Committee of British Parliament on Indian constitutional reforms. Kaur served as the Chairperson of the All India Women's Education Fund Association. She was a member of the Executive Committee of Lady Irwin College in New Delhi. She was sent as a member of the Indian delegation to UNESCO conferences in London and Paris in 1945 and 1946, respectively. She also served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the All India Spinners' Association. Kaur worked to reduce illiteracy, and eradicate the custom of child marriages and the purdah system for women, which were then prevalent among some Indian communities.

Following India's independence from the colonial rule in August 1947, Kaur was appointed to the Indian Constituent Assembly, the government body that was assigned to design the Constitution of India.[4] She was also a member of Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights and Sub-Committee on Minorities.[5] After India's independence, Amrit Kaur became part of Jawaharlal Nehru's first Cabinet; she was the first woman to hold Cabinet rank. She was assigned the Ministry of Health.[2] In 1950, she was elected the president of World Health Assembly, becoming the first woman and the first Asian to hold that post; for the first 25 years of that organisation's history, only two women held that post. As the health minister, Kaur played an instrumental role in establishment of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, and became its first president. For establishing the institute, she secured aid from New Zealand, Australia, West Germany, Sweden, and the United States. She and one of her brothers donated their ancestral property and house (named Manorville) in Simla, Himachal Pradesh to serve as a holiday home for the staff and nurses of the Institute [6]. Kaur served as the Chairperson of the Indian Red Cross society for fourteen years. During her leadership, the Indian Red Cross did a number of pioneering works in the hinterlands of India. She initiated the Tuberculosis Association of India and the Central Leprosy Teaching and Research Institute in Madras (Chennai). She started the Amrit Kaur College of Nursing and the National Sports Club of India. From 1957 until her death in 1964, she remained a member of Rajya Sabha. Between 1958 and 1963 Kaur was the president of the All-India Motor Transport Congress in Delhi. Until her death, she continued to hold the presidencies of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the Tuberculosis Association of India, and the St. John's Ambulance Corps. She also was awarded the Rene Sand Memorial Award.[7] Kaur died in New Delhi on 6 February 1964.[8][9] Today, her private papers are part of the Archives at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, at Teen Murti House, Delhi.[10]


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