A priv­i­leged life

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - WOMAN -

KI­RAN Bedi knew from young that she was des­tined to “be some­body”. As a girl, she led a priv­i­leged life, not be­cause she grew up in wealth but be­cause her par­ents gave her wings to fly.

She was born in 1949 in Am­rit­sar, Pun­jab, at a time when girls in In­dia were groomed to be­come good wives.

But this was not the path for Bedi and her three sis­ters. They played ten­nis in shorts (Bedi was a na­tional ten­nis cham­pion in her youth), cy­cled around freely, sported short hair and wore track suits. And they were en­cour­aged by their par­ents to dream big.

“I am a prod­uct of vi­sion­ary par­ents. I had op­por­tu­ni­ties ... rare op­por­tu­ni­ties that girls didn’t get in the 1950s and 1960s. My fa­ther de­fied his own grand­fa­ther ... al­most to the point of dis­in­her­i­tance, be­cause he wanted to ed­u­cate all four of us girls. He worked ex­tra hard so that he could send us to the best school in town which was lo­cated far from where we lived. At the time, girls in In­dia had a so­cial script ... girls were to be mar­ried off af­ter school. That was their script. But not us. I be­lieve that be­ing born to such vi­sion­ary par­ents made me priv­i­leged,” she shares.

Bedi joined the po­lice force be­cause she wanted to cor­rect in­jus­tice and she knew that she would have that power as a cop.

“I re­mem­ber an in­ci­dent when I was a girl. A poor woman came to my dad ask­ing for his help. Her hus­band had been picked up by the po­lice and was put in the lock up for some­thing he didn’t do. The lady asked my fa­ther if he could help her hus­band. My fa­ther agreed, af­ter as­cer­tain­ing that her hus­band was in­deed falsely ac­cused. He called up the po­lice su­per­in­ten­dent and the next day, the man was free.

“I was fas­ci­nated. To me, it was like magic ... that meant that if you were a se­nior cop, you can ar­rest but you can also undo in­jus­tice. I knew then that I wanted to be a cop as it was the most pow­er­ful way I could undo in­jus­tice. Cops had the power of change and I wanted to make a dif­fer­ence,” she says.

Of course, be­ing the only woman of­fi­cer in an all-male po­lice force wasn’t easy. Bedi met with ob­sta­cles at ev­ery point in her ca­reer. She was given the tough­est post­ings to test her strength but Bedi em­braced the chal­lenges with gusto. Her train­ing as a ten­nis cham­pion, she says, pre­pared her for the gru­elling work. In 1975, Bedi be­came the woman of­fi­cer to lead the New Delhi po­lice con­tin­gent at the Repub­lic day pa­rade, march­ing some 14 kilo­me­tres and lead­ing an all-male pa­rade in front of then prime min­is­ter Indira Gandhi.

“The prime min­is­ter was thrilled when I passed her and saluted her. I could see her jump up and cheer,” re­calls Bedi.

One of her early post­ings was as the Traf­fic Com­mis­sioner of New Delhi, tasked with or­gan­is­ing the traf­fic plan­ning in the city for the up­com­ing Asian Games which was to be held in Delhi in 1982.

Any­one who has been to Delhi would re­alise what a gar­gan­tuan task this was. But Bedi was un­spar­ing in en­forc­ing dis­ci­pline on the roads. She would travel in her po­lice car with a mi­cro­phone and loud­speaker and pub­licly ad­mon­ish driv­ers who were break­ing road rules. She had cranes all around the city to re­move ve­hi­cles that were il­le­gally parked, lend­ing her the mon­icker, Crane Bedi.

One such ve­hi­cle be­longed to then In­dian prime min­is­ter Indira Gandhi!

“I pro­tected the of­fi­cer who towed away her car be­cause to me, laws were above po­si­tions and sta­tus. This was the first time in In­dia the Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia was given a park­ing ticket and it went on through­out my ca­reer ... from one VIP to another. I have had a lot of brick­bats for that but to me, those were not brick­bats. They were re­wards for what I stood for,” she says.

Chart­ing her path

Bedi mar­ried ten­nis player Brij Bedi in 1972, just be­fore she joined the po­lice force and the cou­ple had a daugh­ter, Sa­nia, in 1975.

Though much of her time and en­ergy were de­voted to her ca­reer, Bedi says her home life didn’t suf­fer for it. “I don’t think I paid a price. Women don’t have to pay a price to suc­ceed. It is about bud­get­ing time and man­ag­ing en­ergy. I man­aged my time and en­ergy well. There were things that I could del­e­gate to oth­ers and there were things I ab­so­lutely had to do my­self. I would not do things which I could pay oth­ers to do. Like house­work. I have never cooked and cleaned in my life. Is that a price? No ... if I could pay some­one to do that, it freed me to do other things. If I could pay some­one to drive me, I could read while I was in the car. My hus­band knew this right from the start and it was never an is­sue. We were al­ways equals with no ex­pec­ta­tions.

“Of course, when it came to pass­ing on love and care and hugs to my child, I would do it my­self be­cause only I could do it. I think it’s the way we are scripted,” she says sim­ply.

Bedi be­lieves that men and women do not have sep­a­rate roles just by virtue of their gen­der.

“There are no dif­fer­ent roles but women and men do ap­proach things dif­fer­ently. Roles de­pend on one’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties and in­cli­na­tions. There is noth­ing su­pe­rior or in­fe­rior about any role. If you love be­ing a home­maker and you love putting your all into your home, then do that. En­joy your life. That’s great. But don’t be a mis­fit. I would be a mis­fit as a home­maker. Give me an 18hour day at the of­fice and I love it. That’s my in­cli­na­tion. That’s the way I am. Choose your in­cli­na­tion and be happy with it,” she says.

Though she’s re­tired from the po­lice force, Bedi has in no way slowed down. She is ac­tive in the two non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions she founded: the Navjy­oti In­dia Foun­da­tion (which started as a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ini­tia­tive for drug ad­dicts which has ex­pand its scope to lit­er­acy and women em­pow­er­ment pro­grammes) and the In­dia Vi­sion Foun­da­tion which runs prison re­form and ru­ral and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes.

Bedi is also an ac­tive cam­paigner with In­dia Against Cor­rup­tion, a move­ment led by In­dian so­cial ac­tivist Anna Hazare for a less cor­rupt In­dia.

“My dream is to al­ways be of value to oth­ers,” says Bedi. – By S. Indramalar

Ki­ran bedi was un­spar­ing in en­forc­ing dis­ci­pline on the roads, ad­mon­ish­ing er­rant driv­ers with a mi­cro­phone and loud speaker.

Be­ing the only woman of­fi­cer in the po­lice force wasn’t easy, but bedi rose to the chal­lenge.

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