Pratibha Patil has been sworn in this week as the President of India, in the process becoming the first woman president ever since India became a Republic in 1950.

The event on Wednesday at the Central Hall of Parliament House in New Delhi was attended by a host of politicians and dignitaries, including, outgoing President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Manmohan.

Patil was administered the oath of office by Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan.

Former Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who lost to Patil in what is being called the murkiest presidential battle in India's political history and Leaders of the Opposition in the Parliament, L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh also attended the event.

Incidentally, Advani, citing allegations during the presidential campaign, called Patil a person unfit to occupy the highest constitutional office in a statement addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The office of the Indian president is for the most part ceremonial, but the holder is vested with certain powers that can be significant in times of political crisis. The president is also the supreme commander of the armed forces. In the course of her duties, Patil will be authorized to convene Parliament and must assent to parliamentary bills before they become law.

Patil succeeds the highly popular technocrat President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who, by his geniality, became a darling of the middle class Indians and the student community and succeeded in making the somewhat forbidding and inaccessible presidential palace - Rashtrapati Bhavan - into what he called a people's bhavan.

Patil, who had the support of the governing Congress party and its political allies, and had been expected to win, has hailed her victory as one of moral principles and said she would work for social justice, equality and woman empowerment in the nation.

This is a victory of the people, Patil told reporters after official results of the presidential election were announced. I am grateful to the people of India and the men and women of India and this is a victory for the principles which our Indian people uphold.

A former governor of Rajasthan, Patil emerged on the national spotlight when the Congress-led UPA coalition and its communist allies failed to agree on a joint candidate.

Congress leader and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had earlier called Patil's nomination a historic moment and proof the country respects women.

I, Pratibha Patil, will execute the office of President of India to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and law and I will devote myself to the service and wellbeing of the people of India, Patil said, while taking the oath in English.

In her brief Presidential speech, Patil noted how India stood at the threshold of a new era of progress and urged the people to unite and help the nation move forward at historically unprecedented rates of growth.

She advocated for socially inclusive economic growth throughout the country and protection of children and women.

We must banish malnutrition, social evils, infant mortality and female foeticide, she said.

Urging the people to wage a relentless campaign against poverty, ignorance and disease for a better future of the children, she said, we must show wisdom and foresight in protecting our planet and our children, for the good of all living species and future generations.

Empowerment of women is particularly important to me as I believe this leads to the empowerment of the nation, she said.

She said she was committed to education for all and urged the nation to use science and technology for the benefit people in diverse fields and occupations.

In addition she urged solidarity in standing against “such divisive and destructive tendencies as communalism, casteism, extremism and terrorism.

I am fully aware of the great responsibility that has been placed on my humble shoulders, she continued.

Ending her speech quoting Bengali poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Patil underlined the need for India awakening into that heaven of freedom where the mind was without fear and the head was held high.

Let us all rededicate ourselves once again to our Constitutional ideals and work unitedly to build such an India, she concluded.

Traditionally, while India has had several women in positions of power - most notably Sonia 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 do not get adequate medical treatment when ill. If they are widowed, they are considered a burden to 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.

Among others in attendance were Parliament’s lower house Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, upper house Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee, V.P. Singh and I.K. Gujral, Governors, Chief Ministers and members of the diplomatic corps.