First among equals

Kiren Bedi stood out in In­dia’s Po­lice Ser­vice not only be­cause she was the first woman in the ser­vice but also the im­pact she made.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By S. INDRAMALAR star2@thes­tar.com.my

FEAR­LESS would be one way to de­scribe Ki­ran Bedi, known to many as In­dia’s “su­per cop”. In 1972, Bedi be­came the first woman of­fi­cer to join the In­dian Po­lice Ser­vice at age 23. Her ap­point­ment was met with some scep­ti­cism – peo­ple thought that crime rates would def­i­nitely go up un­der her watch as women were per­ceived as be­ing in­ca­pable of tough jobs like crime fight­ing.

But Bedi has de­fied the odds. She steadily rose up the ranks of the po­lice force to be­come the Deputy In­spec­tor Gen­eral of po­lice in Mi­zo­ram, ad­vi­sor to the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor of Chandigarh, Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the Nar­cotics Con­trol Bureau. She was also the spe­cial ad­vi­sor to then United Na­tions Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Kofi An­nan for two years be­fore re­turn­ing to In­dia to her fi­nal po­si­tion in the force as the Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the Bureau of Po­lice Re­search and De­vel­op­ment be­fore her vol­un­tary re­tire­ment in 2007.

Bedi not only proved she had the met­tle, she showed the world that women, with their in­nate abil­ity to care for oth­ers, had an edge over men ... even in polic­ing.

“I pro­vided ac­ces­si­bil­ity. I think a woman’s voice, if it reaches out com­pas­sion­ately, as well as ef­fec­tively and in­for­ma­tively, is more val­ued. Women are half the pop­u­la­tion, af­ter all, and I think I pro­vided ac­ces­si­bil­ity to the pop­u­la­tion. They knew what I stood for. As a cop, I wanted to be a guardian, a men­tor and I wanted to right in­jus­tice. I wanted to be an hon­est, good cop that brought change and peo­ple trusted me,” she says in a re­cent in­ter­view.

Bedi was in Kuala Lumpur briefly to speak at the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for Lead­er­ship in Fi­nance (ICLIF) Lead­er­ship En­ergy Sum­mit Asia, or­gan­ised by Bank Ne­gara’s ICLIF. In her 30-odd years of ser­vice in the po­lice force, Bedi pushed through re­forms in the coun­try’s polic­ing and prison sys­tems that have had last­ing ef­fects.

“My legacy has been giv­ing the po­lice force a hu­man face. I showed that polic­ing wasn’t just about catch­ing crim­i­nals. The po­lice did not only have the power to de­tect and ar­rest, but also the power to cor­rect and to pre­vent,” says Bedi, 63.

As the Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the Pris­ons Depart­ment (from 1993 to 1995), Bedi trans­formed Ti­har Jail from one of In­dia’s largest, most no­to­ri­ous pris­ons into an “ashram” (a place of spir­i­tual re­treat).

She be­gan by mak­ing her pres­ence felt and known in the prison. Un­like her pre­de­ces­sors, Bedi made the prison her base - she had an of­fice on the prison grounds where she sta­tioned her­self ev­ery­day. She’d walk around the prison meet­ing the in­mates and ob­serv­ing their sit­u­a­tion.

She in­tro­duced re­forms al­most im­me­di­ately: she changed the diet of the in­mates, mak­ing sure they got whole­some, palat­able food. She also banned smok­ing on the prison grounds, a move op­posed by the in­mates – some went on a death fast and oth­ers threat­ened to hang them­selves from the beams in their cells. But she per­se­vered and now, Ti­har jail is the only one in the coun­try where smok­ing is pro­hib­ited.

Bedi also in­tro­duced ed­u­ca­tion and med­i­ta­tion pro­grammes for the in­mates.

“Ti­har jail was a big den of crim­i­nals. I was in charge of more than 10,000 pris­on­ers, of which only about 400 were women and chil­dren. Hon­estly, at first I didn’t know what I was go­ing to do. But the first day I went in, I looked at the group of crim­i­nals in front of me and I asked them, ‘Do you pray?’. I re­peated the ques­tion sev­eral times un­til they an­swered me, ‘Yes’ and then we pro­ceeded to pray. Af­ter that, things be­gan to change.

“I ini­ti­ated an ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme for the pris­on­ers. We had no bud­get at all, so the teach­ers were the pris­on­ers them­selves ... those who were ed­u­cated. We had 500 ed­u­cated pris­on­ers teach­ing classes. The books they used were all do­nated. Ev­ery pris­oner went into the ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme, re­gard­less of their crime. From 9am to 11am in the morn­ing, the prison be­came a school and I was the head­mistress.

“We also started a med­i­ta­tion pro­gramme for them. The prison was like a town­ship with more than 10,000 sick peo­ple who needed a doc­tor for health­care and mind care. We sat in med­i­ta­tion to­gether ... I sat be­tween the male and fe­male in­mates and med­i­tated with them. Of course, we sep­a­rated the hard core crim­i­nals and worked on them sep­a­rately. But the rest of them loved it. Crime is the prod­uct of a dis­torted mind which needed to be ad­dressed. Not by preach­ing, not by telling or read­ing, but by ad­dress­ing the mind,” she shares.

Bedi also placed a “feed­back box” on the prison grounds for the in­mates to write to her di­rectly. Ev­ery­day, she’d go through the let­ters her­self be­fore she went home.

“It was a locked box; only I had the key. Through the box, I found out ex­actly what was hap­pen­ing in the prison. This box was my in­tel­li­gence sys­tem. If there was an emer­gency sit­u­a­tion build­ing up, I found out and was able to ar­rest it im­me­di­ately. I found out who was plan­ning to es­cape. I found out in­side in­for­ma­tion about my staff ... the in­mates would tell me about the cor­rup­tion in the pris­ons which led me to fire some prison

of­fi­cials. This box gave the pris­on­ers a di­rect line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion to me. There was no hi­er­ar­chy, and be­lieve it or not, no­body ever gave me false in­for­ma­tion,” she said.

This act of “reach­ing out”, Bedi be­lieves, is typ­i­cal of women.

In 1994 Bedi was hon­oured with the Ra­mon Magsaysay Award (known as the Asian No­bel Prize) for her work in re­form­ing the coun­try’s prison sys­tem.

Illustration by Miee

in 1975, bedi be­came the first woman of­fi­cer to lead the New

delhi po­lice con­tin­gent at the repub­lic day

pa­rade. – rohaizat md darus/The Star

Ki­ran bedi started a med­i­ta­tion pro­gramme for the in­mates of Ti­har jail. – Pics cour­tesy of Ki­ran bedi

bedi showed how women had an edge over men.

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