The 1994 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service
BIOGRAPHY of Kiran Bedi
Kiran Bedi née Peshawaria was born on 9 June 1949 in Amritsar, a city located in northern India's Punjab state. The second of four sisters, she is widely recognized as a woman with a sense of mission, someone who will struggle against any and all obstacles in order to follow her convictions. She is keenly aware that her life is different from that of most other women in India: she comes from a landed family and was the first in her family to enter any branch of government service, let alone the police. Asked if she would join the police service again if reborn, she has replied that she would, "provided I have the same parents."
Kiran grew up in a large, two-story house with multiple rooms and extensive grounds and stables owned by her paternal grandparents. She and her immediate family lived on the ground floor; her father's parents lived upstairs. Her father's elder brother also lived in the house for a while but later moved to a family-owned hotel. While the family language was Punjabi, English and Hindi were also spoken, and there were always several English-language newspapers and books in the home. The result for Kiran, she says, was "a balanced growth of English, Hindi, and Punjabi."
Kiran was aware of how special her life was compared to the majority of Indian children. Her parents sacrificed a great deal so that their daughters could go to the best schools, learn sports, and be exceptional. Kiran became determined to live her life in her own way, not following in the footsteps or expectations of others. Inspired and supported by her parents, she yearned to achieve fame in her country and looked forward to a life of worth. Even at age seven or eight she would say that, when grown, she would work for her country. In her mind, this always meant embracing government service at the highest level.
Kiran's models were her parents. Her goal in life was to succeed in honor of her parents because they did everything for her and she wanted to do everything for them. She prayed that she would be worthy of her parents' sacrifices on her behalf, by living her life in such a way that it would return much more to them.
Both Kiran's father, a talented tennis player, and her mother, a brilliant student whose schooling had been curtailed by early marriage, were determined that their daughters would have every opportunity to achieve their own life goals. One inspired her and her sisters to be tennis champions and, more importantly, to be people who had dreams and sought to achieve them. The other ensured that they would be healthy and fit to achieve those dreams. Neither ever showed disappointment in not having a son-a remarkable outlook at a time when daughters were seen as total social liabilities. Instead, Kiran's parents were committed to helping their daughters become adults prepared to contribute to the future of India as women of talent, education, and capability, able to make their own choices and to carve out their own lives.
In contrast, Kiran's paternal grandfather, Lala Muni Lal, considered his four granddaughters as liabilities. A prominent member of his community and often consulted regarding legal matters, he was an authoritarian who loved sports, was extremely careful about his money, and owned one of the earliest chauffeur-driven cars in the area. While he never directly interfered with Kiran's own life choices, he did play a disastrous role in later decisions affecting her eldest sister, Shashi.
Kiran's father, Parkash Lal Peshawaria, was the third in a family of four sons and three daughters. A sensitive man, he was disturbed by the way women played a subservient role in society and, atypically, grew up with a tremendous respect for women. While his father was a Hindu and his mother a Sikh, his family was not a keenly religious one. However, he regularly attended Sikh Temple with his mother. He never had to eke out his own livelihood because he worked for his father, an industrialist and hotel owner. On his own, Parkash Lal's family owned several pilgrim houses (rest houses where the poor could stay while on pilgrimages), which they ran as charities, not businesses.
As a young man, Kiran's father was more interested in playing tennis than in studying. Kiran remembers her father playing tennis every evening, always going to the courts despite the demands of the family business. In that way he sought to show his own father that he was, at heart, a sportsman. As long as he worked for his father and continued to live under his father's roof, he was free to pursue these interests. The family's membership in the Amritsar Service Club was paid for each year by Kiran's grandfather; this country club played an important role in Kiran's life. Three generations of her family were members, as was the family of her future husband. However, her grandfather kept the Peshawarias on a tight allowance, which was not always large enough to meet the needs of the family. On occasion, Kiran's mother would appeal to her own family for support to meet special expenses. But Kiran says that both of her parents continually sacrificed their own interests to meet the needs of the children.
Parkash Lal was a voracious reader but only of books that were positive and inspirational (by authors such as the Americans Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale). Kiran remembers that he would wake his girls late at night and read them a passage that had caught his imagination. He would then go back to his bed and sleep. The sisters, however, could not sleep. Stirred by their father, Kiran says, they were now "charged with energy to do, energy to achieve, energy to win."
A final break between Kiran's father and grandfather occurred when Parkash Lal enrolled Shashi in a good Catholic convent school, determined to give her every academic advantage. Infuriated that his permission had not been sought, Lala Muni Lal cut off his son's allowance. Accepting help from his father-in-law, Parkash Lal declared financial independence and moved his family into a home of its own.
Kiran's mother, Prem Lata Peshawaria, came from a wealthy Hindu family in Amritsar engaged in merchandise trading between Pakistan and India. Prem was an only child, an unusual circumstance for her generation. Hers was a highly religious family. Her father would not eat his own breakfast until he had provided free food to fifty needy people as a daily act of charity. This element of caring, sharing, and giving, as carried on by Prem, became a permanent part of Kiran's own home life and set an example of service to others-an ideal to which Kiran has committed her life.
Prem Lata had been a bright student who had notable academic achievements before her studies were cut short by an arranged marriage at a very young age. She always regretted not being able to go to university because of her duties as wife and mother; she did not want her daughters to have the same experience. Although she would let them help with some household tasks, she never taught any of them to cook. Instead, she would send them off to study. Kiran attributes her own "thirst for higher academics" to her mother's unfulfilled desire to pursue higher education.
Kiran's mixed Hindu-Sikh family was not an overly religious one. There was not a family prayer time and the children were brought up in both traditions, sometimes attending rites of the one and sometimes of the other. Within the family, she participated in discussions about what did or did not constitute goodness and witnessed examples of tolerance, generosity, and sacrifice. A key to the family ethos was the idea that one is entitled to one's own due in life but that, in achieving it, one must not hurt other people.
The evening meal at the Peshawarias was the time when each daughter had the opportunity to share. The talk would move from challenge to challenge, in both school and sports. Her parents, great listeners and posers of questions, would pay attention to how their girls had applied themselves, confronted and resolved problems, and handled stressful situations. The sisters would ask each how they could have done more, or better. Kiran came away from these and other family talks reenergized, challenged to do more, and determined never to give up, turn back, or complain. She learned to assert herself in the service of right and to always respect the rights of others.
While Kiran felt that she was being raised to be someone special, her oldest sister, Shashi, seemed not to have that feeling about herself. Instead, she appeared focused on having a normal life. Perhaps this is the reason, when Kiran's paternal grandfather agreed to a marriage proposal by a Canada-based Indian heart specialist for Shashi, that Parkash agreed to the arrangement, even though Shashi was still engaged in her master's degree studies. He probably sensed a safe haven for his fun-loving daughter. In reality, the marriage was a disaster. The doctor left India the second day after the wedding and later called to say that Shashi's parents should pay for her passage to Canada; he also demanded a share of the family property. As Kiran's father had already spent all his savings on the wedding ceremony, her mother sold her jewelry to pay for the ticket. Shashi soon learned that her new husband was already living with someone else in Canada. Although she was extremely unhappy, her parents counseled her to stay there and use the opportunity to study. For Kiran, this bitter experience increased her determination to make her own way in her own country.
In 1954, Kiran started her formal studies at the Sacred Heart Convent School in Amritsar. An all-girl's school where the majority of students were non-Christian, Sacred Heart was run along British guidelines and all classes were taught in English. Kiran remembers the school's German and Belgian nuns as wonderful teachers who never attempted to convert her and her classmates to Catholicism or forced them to attend church. Her best subjects were civics, social science, and history; her worst subject was mathematics. At Sacred Heart, Kiran also studied moral science, the study of being a good human being. Up till now she considers it the most important subject she ever took.
Kiran started playing tennis at age nine. Her daily schedule was full and included going straight to the tennis coaching center after school, where her mother would meet her with a flask of milk and some food. Between her turns on the court, she would do her homework. When her tennis lessons were over, she and her mother and sisters would all go to the Service Club. Among the club's members were senior civil servants who later became her role models: a superintendent of police, a deputy commissioner, an income tax commissioner, and others. These men encouraged her not only in her tennis but also in her goal to serve the public; some became lifelong advocates on her behalf. The family would then go home, where the sisters would complete their homework and share the evening meal. Her parents would often return to the club after dinner.
At fourteen, Kiran began to compete as an amateur tennis player. She traveled all over the country-often the only girl on the team from her coaching center. Later, her father traveled with her. Between 1965 and 1978, Kiran won area and state lawn tennis championships all over India. She and her sister Reeta won the All-India Inter-Varsity tournament three years running. In 1966, she won the Junior National Lawn Tennis Championship. She became International Women's Lawn Tennis Champion of Asia in 1972. She also won the All-India National Hard Court Women's Tennis Championship in 1974, the All-India Interstate Women's Lawn Tennis title for Delhi in 1975, and the National Women's Lawn Tennis Championship in 1976. She represented India twice against Sri Lanka, winning the title for her country both times. Finally, with her sister Anu, she won the first women's festival sports title for Delhi in 1976, receiving three gold and two silver medals. She credits her experience as an athlete for shaping her vision and training her in perseverance.
Along with her success as an athlete, Kiran was a fine scholar. In 1968, she graduated from the Government College for Women in Amritsar with an Honours in English. She was most interested in political science, particularly in public administration, and in sports and debating, which she found to be a great confidence builder. Athletically, she was involved in several varsity activities-hurdles, long jump, and marathon running-all chosen to help her become more fit for tennis competitions. Socially, she tended to keep within her family circle. While she had many friends who were boys, she had no boyfriends until age eighteen, and by then she had "learned to monitor [her] emotions," she says, because of her commitment to tennis.
Another important focal point for Kiran at Amritsar was the National Cadet Corps (NCC). The NCC gave her "first taste of khaki," she says, and she was a very enthusiastic cadet-in uniform from day one, learning to march, fire a weapon, and be a platoon leader and an effective officer. At various training camps she learned to trek and live under adverse conditions. Eventually, she became one of the youngest platoon commanders in the NCC. In 1968, she won the NCC Cadet Officer Award.
Following her graduation from Government College, Kiran attended Punjab University in Chandigarh, receiving her master's degree in political science in 1970 and scoring the highest marks. From 1970 to 1972, she was a lecturer at Khalsa College for Women in Amritsar, teaching general political science courses such as government, civics, foreign relations, and systems of administration. A popular teacher, Kiran was pleasantly surprised when a thousand students presented her with a bag full of prayers written on slips of paper to wish her luck when she represented India in the International Women's Lawn Tennis Championships. She loved teaching and, in many ways, still functions as an educator in the many "classrooms" of her career-with criminals and crime victims and their families; with women and children at risk; with prison inmates and guards; and with colleagues, bureaucrats, and the public at large. During her career in the Indian Police Service, Kiran eventually earned a law degree at Delhi University in 1988 and a Ph.D. from the Department of Social Sciences of the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi in 1993. She has more than fulfilled her mother's dream of academic success.
From an early age, Kiran was determined to choose her own marriage partner and to pay for her own wedding. She realized before too long that her first serious relationship would not be a good match. For one thing, she was strongly career oriented, while he wanted her career to be secondary to his. For another, he wanted a traditional marriage, including a dowry. As she was not willing to be "domesticated," she decided to end the relationship. She then met Brij Bedi at the Amritsar tennis courts. He was nine years her senior, a textile machine manufacturer with land and agricultural property inherited from his family, and he admired and supported her in everything that she did. They married in 1972, not for security but for companionship, and she has found the relationship to be mutually supportive. As neither of them believed in religious ceremonies, they chose not to waste any money on an expensive marriage ritual. Instead, they went to the Shiva temple near Brij's house and prayed, going around the temple seven times. That was all. Then they threw a joint reception paid for from their combined earnings-something new for that time.
With the press of their careers claiming their attention, Kiran and Brij decided that they would have to allow each other to lead separate lives while remaining "soul companions." Brij takes delight in what Kiran does and gives her the freedom to live life her way; she reciprocates by giving him the liberty to do what he thinks is right. When courting, they had enjoyed writing poetry together and, even now, when she cannot be with him, she will express her feelings in words that speak of loneliness, unhappiness, and distance, allowing her feelings to emerge in the poetry. Brij has never parted with any of her poems. This marital arrangement of shared independence, so unconventional those many years ago, is still quite unusual in India.
Kiran and Brij have one child, a daughter, Saina, born in September 1975, three years after Kiran started her career in the Indian Police Service (IPS). Shortly after Saina's birth, Kiran prepared herself physically for another tennis competition and for her return to an active field assignment. Taking up the strands of her career once more in Delhi, Kiran asked her parents to come and live with her. Her mother took over the management of Kiran's home, dedicating her life (as Kiran paraphrases her) to "looking after and caring for my grandchildren, so that my daughters can pursue their careers wholeheartedly."
With both parental and marital support, Kiran was free to fulfill her commitment to making a difference in India. She was attracted to police work as the field in which she felt she would have not only the power to do good but also the power to undo wrongs. In her application for government service, she listed it as her first preference. This led, in July 1972, to Kiran's becoming the first woman to enter the IPS-a success that has encouraged other women to join the service. Indeed, since her acceptance, every graduating class has contained at least one and as many as four women. (Even so, by 1994 there were only forty other women in India's national police service.)
As the first woman to go through police training, Kiran was quickly accepted by her male co-trainees because of her celebrity status, which had put her on the sports pages regularly from the age of fourteen. She was already familiar to them as a national tennis champion known for her stamina and tenacity. She found basic training at the National Police Academy at Mount Abu, Rajasthan, to be rigorous. The 1974 Punjab police training was even more difficult. A bareback riding accident at that time made her realize the gratuitous nature of some time-honored police-training exercises. She became an advocate for discontinuing any training regimen that hurts trainees rather than toughens them.
Kiran's posting to the Union Territories within the All-India Service was determined by the luck of the computerized draw-a matter of destiny, not of choice. The Union Territories include not only Delhi, the governmental heart of India, but also other noncontiguous areas that have a special administrative relationship to the central government. Some of these areas had been declared "states"-making them self-governing under the Indian Constitution-but continued to draw officers from the Union Territories' pool. And some were trouble spots (such as the Northeast Territory) being governed as "territories" directly under the central government.
The Delhi Police, responsible for an extensive metropolitan area, is one of the best forces in the country. It counts on a large pool of capable and energetic young men and women officers who utilize up-to-date technology and police techniques. As basic training only prepares an officer for general police work, Kiran considers her varied early assignments in Delhi as an apprenticeship. During this excellent on-the-job training, she not only learned district and state police procedures but also began to acquire confidence and power.
Kiran's preference for crime control, crime prevention, and the general law-and-order tasks of district policing emerged during her first posting to the Chanakyapuri Subdivision in 1975. The area included Parliament, various foreign embassies, Indira Gandhi's house, the prime minister's residence, the president's house, Jawaharlal Nehru's house, and the Mahatma Gandhi memorial. In this affluent district, the main crime was theft. Political demonstrations constituted the other major problem and Kiran had to deal with them almost daily. In particularly troubled times, she commanded special units of the country's armed forces in addition to regular police officers. All of this groomed her as a leader, she says. Kiran's policy concerning political demonstrations was to show maximum tolerance toward people who were exercising their democratic rights, while maintaining law and order. To disperse an unruly crowd and defuse a dangerous situation, she would use the least provocative method possible; only as a last resort would she order the police to discharge their weapons. As she insisted on "leading from the front and not directing from the rear," she was often injured in the resulting scuffles. During a riot in November 1979, she stood her ground in the face of violent demonstrators and was subsequently awarded a medal for gallantry and personal bravery.
The pattern of IPS assignments generally consists of being moved to a new posting every two years. This pattern affects how an officer approaches the work and proves his or her worth. One approach is to do nothing because one will not be in the post for long; another is not to waste a single day. The first choice never appealed to Kiran, who would usually come in and change things within her first week on the job. Thriving on challenges, she believes that the pressure to work rapidly also gets rapid results. Moreover, she has always found her personal combination of gentleness and firmness to work like magic.
Having built a good reputation, Kiran finds that it precedes her whenever she comes to a new posting. With her, people know that dishonesty and favoritism are out, while fairness, even-handedness, and the rule of law are in. She will take full responsibility for whatever happens, never looking for scapegoats among her junior officers. She will not allow herself or her officers to accept any favors, not even gifts during festive occasions. Furthermore, she will never let a senior officer reprimand one of her subordinates. If a junior officer is in the wrong, she prefers to be the person to deal with the situation. She is there to support her officers, not to sacrifice them. She believes in building her reputation based on her own actions, not on the actions of her subordinates, to whom she gives credit where due. These traits have earned her the respect and trust of her officers, who know that if they work with her sincerely she will treat them fairly and protect them.
Kiran's presence in a district sends a message to criminals as well. She wants them to consider her to be fair and responsive to their human needs, but tough when it comes to doing her duty. She will not allow arrests to be made for the sake of bolstering departmental statistics, and she instructs police to use the required amount of force and no more. No torture is allowed. If a criminal asks her to look after a sick wife or baby, she will dispense an officer to look after the family even if she has to pay the bill herself.
Kiran has always believed that the arrest of criminals creates an opportunity to bring them back to family basics, so that they are shown love and given help to leave their life of crime. As she enjoyed some magisterial powers in the Delhi Police, she used her limited power as a lever in correcting behavior. Additionally, she has been committed throughout her career to the creation of educational and detoxification opportunities for prisoners, so that magistrates would have a broader range of potentially life-changing options.
Kiran began to experiment with preventative policing early in her career, when other officers were not pursuing these tactics. She had lists made of thousands of criminals, which she then gave to her neighborhood constables. Their reports allowed her to keep tabs on the activities of people with criminal records, not for harassment purposes but for corrective and preventative measures. The lists used on the beat led to the establishment of neighborhood watch groups, which observed the behavior of released criminals within their areas. Her message to criminals was loud and clear: anyone is welcome to live in her district as long as he or she lives there peacefully.
When posted to the West District in 1979, Kiran found a "wonderful team" of mature officers who worked well together. Even so, as there were too few police officers to handle the high volume of criminal activity, she started to recruit civilian police volunteers. She encouraged people to help the police by first policing themselves. Then, she went from village to village looking for able-bodied people whom she could train to help with security measures, especially at night. In her plan, villages were patrolled by teams of six civilians led by an armed policeman. It worked. The criminals were soon afraid to come into the district at night because the people were vigilant, organized, and unafraid.
Having tackled night crime in the West District, Kiran turned her attention to curbing daytime crime. She made a public appeal to anyone with knowledge of any crime to call in that information, no names asked. Often, people would respond immediately, going to a crime scene in order to assist the police. She also distributed pamphlets and held public meetings in order to make certain that her methods were understood. She had a microphone installed in her vehicle and she would climb up on the car and ask, "Is my beat officer visible?" "Do you know his name?" "Does he come to see you?" She found this technique to be the best way to check on her beat system, as it kept her officers on their toes. She would also sometimes walk a beat with a constable in order to raise his self-esteem by being able to say, "Here is the deputy commissioner of police walking with me."
Kiran decided that she had to dry up bootlegging and the illicit liquor business in order to fight drunken crime on street corners. In the West District, where women are traditionally the bootleggers, she encouraged people to report such activities to the police who would then make preventative arrests. She took the bootleggers off the streets during peak selling times by detaining the women for twenty-three hours under the powers granted her by the Delhi Police Act. Within three months, crimes involving alcohol were reduced and there was also a reduction in cases of "Eve teasing," or the sexual harassment of women. This led to public goodwill from the women in her district, who would come to her and volunteer their services to help fight crime because, since her arrival, there was no more wife beating in their houses.
Kiran made herself available to any citizen who wanted to speak with her. This personal "open door" policy filtered down through the system, police corruption and drunkenness decreased, and senior officers soon started to make themselves available to citizens as well. She remains totally committed to a policy of openness, accountability, and transparency as being the best deterrent against internal police corruption.
Applying this policy down to the level of the local constable, Kiran implemented a "beat box" system, in which a complaints box was installed in each ward. The easily identifiable boxes were built by the people of the area themselves and inaugurated at a public meeting, so that everyone would know it was their box and their constable. The message was that anyone could reach the police authorities at any time. To facilitate that goal, Kiran instructed her constables to eat their lunch at the box at a set time each day so they could easily be found. She taught her constables how to determine which complaints were significant and which were not, and gave them special training in handling minor situations before they turned into major ones. In this way, small matters such as husband and wife disputes would be handled before they resulted in suicide, bride burning, or murder. These policies deepened public appreciation, respect, and cooperation, which, in turn, enhanced the self-esteem of her constables.
Like most police forces in heavy crime areas throughout the world, the IPS, especially in urban areas like Delhi, is often overwhelmed by the need to respond to crimes. Kiran would like to see a better balance achieved between responding to crimes and preventing them. She spends as much time as possible doing preventative policing. Because of her dedication to this approach, she has become both an example for some and a stumbling block for others, especially those invested in maintaining the status quo.
Kiran received her nickname, "Crane" Bedi, during the Ninth Asian Games held in New Delhi in 1982. Traffic control was a high priority, and improperly parked cars were a major cause of traffic snarls. Within six months, Kiran had sixteen "cranes" (tow trucks) working to keep the roads clear no matter who caused the congestion. Her policy of fining and towing both carts and Cadillacs meant that, for the first time, the rich and powerful were not exempt from the law. At one point, even Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's car was towed away. Kiran's policy of "ruthlessly impartial enforcement of the rules" granted no concessions and made no compromises. It soon fueled an affluent, powerful lobby that resented such actions from a district police commissioner, and a woman at that! As soon as the Asian Games were over, Kiran was given a three-year assignment in Goa. Her seven-year-old daughter was ill with nephritis at the time, and Kiran tried to delay the transfer until her daughter's condition became stable. She found no sympathy in the bureaucracy. Instead, she says, "I had placed myself in a very vulnerable situation." The only people who could help her were exactly those "who had been offended by my 'equal enforcement of law'. I found them attempting to teach me my first lesson-favor your seniors blindly, if you want favors."
Kiran arrived in Goa in March 1983. As was typical in her career, she quickly made friends among the common people and intractable political enemies among the powerful, who were incensed at her policy of "equal treatment." At the end of nine months, she applied for a leave so that she could be with her daughter, who was in need of hospitalization. When leave was denied, she took six months without pay to care for Saina. Although she was accused by the chief minister of Goa of absconding from her post and being absent without leave, she was finally reinstated and assigned to the Railway Protection Force, work she did not enjoy. Six months later, she was assigned to the Department of Industrial Development, where she worked on industrial relations as a strike mediator between labor and management, work that she did enjoy.
In 1986, Kiran joined the North District police service where the primary problem was drug abuse. India had become a major transit country for drugs between 1983 and 1984. Drugs flowed in from the Pakistan-Afghanistan belt on their way to Bombay and Madras and eventually to Europe. Unfortunately, as she points out, a transit country rapidly becomes a consuming country. By 1986, when India's antidrug laws were finally tightened, the country was overwhelmed with addicts. Kiran's pattern of talking to criminals to try to understand their needs and motivations was unsuccessful with criminals who were also drug addicts, who faced the horrors of withdrawal when they were arrested. She became convinced that the only way to control crime in her district was to provide well-run detoxification centers. Once criminals had prevailed over their withdrawal symptoms, Kiran was certain she could deal with them.
With the support of her superior, Kiran set aside six police barracks as detox centers. At any given time, she had up to six hundred criminals under treatment who, if on the street, would have committed six hundred or more crimes to support their habits. Therefore, just establishing the detox centers prevented a large number of crimes each day. The centers were staffed by volunteer doctors and supplied with donated medical supplies. Furniture was also donated. Yoga experts volunteered their help. The response of others to her appeals for assistance was based, at least partly, on her previously established reputation as a no-nonsense officer who believed in both crime correction and prevention. Kiran is quick to share credit with reporters who once covered her sports career and who now covered her crime-fighting as well as her human rights activities: "They have been steady friends," she says, "especially those in Delhi."
In time, the drug problem in the North District started to decline and other people became interested in Kiran's approach. These efforts were consolidated in one center called Navjyoti, which was later registered as a foundation under the direct control of the district police commissioner. Navjyoti is dedicated to helping addicts learn to live sober and responsible lives. Its status as a Delhi Police foundation has protected it from those wanting to shut it down either by command or by vote. In addition to its cost-free, short-term residential rehabilitation program, Navjyoti provides free educational and vocational training for the children of Yamuna Pushta (the biggest slum in Delhi) through its school, Navjyoti Pathshala. It also supports women's literacy and vocational training centers at Jehangirpuri, a resettlement colony of Delhi. Kiran serves as the foundation's general secretary.
Kiran's next assignment was as deputy director of the Narcotics Control Bureau, also in New Delhi. When her two-year stint was finished, Kiran wanted a change. She asked for a challenging posting away from Delhi-such as the Andamans, Arunachal Pradesh, or Mizoram-hoping that it would eventually lead to her being reassigned to the Delhi Police. In 1990, she was posted to Mizoram and headquartered in Aizawl, the capital, a cool, pleasant, and beautiful place. Her father, mother, and daughter went with her.
Mizoram is a mountainous area close to Burma and there are constant problems with the area's rebellious minorities. During her tenure, the Hmar People's Convention (HMC) launched a minor insurgency in an attempt to achieve independence. Kiran was unable to stop the fighting altogether but she did succeed in containing it. The major crimes in the district were heroin smuggling across the Burmese border and drunkenness. Excessive drinking was part of the tribal culture in the area, so much so that Kiran had to set up a detox center for her own police officers. Having instituted the beat box system and put her own house in order, she turned to the needs of the community.
Ninety-five percent of the people of Mizoram are Christians. Kiran utilized the power of prayer to effect law enforcement. With the cooperation of the local churches of all denominations, she asked for prayers for the reduction of criminal behavior. She declared Saturdays "prayer and rehabilitation day" at district police stations. When the superintendent of police, an atheist, asked her to stop, she refused. This was a unique method of crime control: to bring past criminals to the police stations every Saturday to pray and learn and to receive treatment for alcoholism. She also used a system of record keeping that identified criminals, documenting once more that the same people committed crimes again and again. In fact, this system worked even more efficiently than it had in Delhi because Mizoram was hill bound.
The Mizoram community benefited from her work and, at first, the response was positive. However, there were those in authority who did not want her to succeed and, eventually, one of the local political parties began agitating against her. Kiran's biographer, Parmesh Dangwal, has this comment:
For the first time they were seeing a police officer interacting with the public beyond the usual levels of search, arrest, prosecution and punishment. But this interaction required a lot of persuasion from, and coordination with, the supporting agencies and the community. It is this constant interaction with the community that has been the hallmark of Kiran Bedi's mode of functioning. The fact that such positive interaction has inevitably, as in the case of Mizoram, been viewed with suspicion of her intent discloses the tendency of our bureaucracy to alienate the people.
She was advised by her superiors that they could no longer protect her. It is better to leave, they said. By this time, her parents and daughter had already left. Kiran herself now departed quietly at night, taking only one small bag with her.
Kiran was now required to wait eight months for a new posting, from September 1992 to May 1993. While in Mizoram, she had finished her doctoral dissertation on drug abuse and domestic violence. She now started writing her autobiography, and she traveled around India giving lectures on drug abuse, human rights, and police tactics. Having completed a "hard posting," she was entitled to return to the Delhi Police; instead, she was posted to the Delhi Prisons as inspector general (IG).
When Kiran took over the Delhi prison system in May 1993, its four prisons had a total population of over nine thousand prisoners. While some prisoners would stay a while, post bail, and then leave, those accused of non-bailable offenses-murder, drug abuse, drug trafficking, and terrorist activities, for example-were held in prison for long periods awaiting adjudication by a badly clogged court system. While the creation of extra courts for special cases gradually reduced the overall prison population, the system offered little to prisoners to assist them once released; many were repeat offenders.
Using Delhi's notorious Tihar jail as her headquarters and model prison, Kiran now wielded her authority as inspector general to inaugurate several reforms and innovations. She subjected the entire prison population to a common regimen. She arranged for every prisoner to attend a school that suited his or her needs. She had the prison schools declared government schools, staffed them with regular teachers, and provided vocational training recognized with certificates of completion, so that prisoners could carve out new futures for themselves after prison. She laid the groundwork for limited industrialization within the prison, so that prisoners could work and earn wages. She developed a panchayat (counsel) system where prisoners who were respected for their age, education, or character represented other inmates and met every evening with senior officers to sort out problems-a major democratization that brought into play openness, transparency, accountability, and accessibility. She organized additional activities for prisoners such as sports, yoga, prayer, and the celebration of religious festivals. She established petition boxes so that prisoners could write to the IG about any issue, knowing that they would receive a personal, written reply from Kiran herself. She provided meditation courses for prisoners twice monthly, which were taught by the Vipassana Training Institute. And she declared the prison a no-smoking zone.
Following her earlier habit of getting out from behind her desk, Kiran daily toured one of the prisons-selected at random-walking with the superintendent, his deputy and assistants, prisoner counsel members, various other prisoners, and a stenographer. She questioned and observed the staff, listened to prisoner comments and complaints, checked cleanliness, evaluated overall management, and inspected food quality. She found that the best way to handle the thirty-some "gangster" prisoners in her charge-all of whom were major gang leaders who used their time in prison to recruit new members, extort money, and sell contraband-was to isolate them in separate barracks so that they were not included among the main prison population. When they took her to court saying that she was unfairly segregating them, the court upheld her ruling. After that, they behaved so well that she granted their request for a television to watch the 1994 Wimbledon tennis and World Cup football championships and also arranged for them to attend education and meditation courses.
Kiran's well-documented achievements at Tihar jail attracted worldwide attention. She was the recipient of awards and commendations and her accomplishments were paid tribute by corrections colleagues in other countries, human rights groups, and heads of state. In spite of this acclaim, Kiran was removed from her post as inspector general of prisons in May 1995. The reassignment appears to have been caused by complaints from inside the government bureaucracy: first, that she was ignoring statutes and longstanding procedures governing the management of prisons and replacing them with measures that were popular but that reduced prison security; and second, that she was doing this to achieve personal glory. In the words of writer and journalist Khushwant Singh, Kiran's transfer from Tihar jail was "a victory for a handful of small-minded envious people over a gutsy woman who has won laurels for herself and her country." Unfortunately, Tihar jail quickly reverted to the brutal and dehumanizing environment it had been before Kiran's advent. She had renamed the jail Tihar Ashram and called it "a place of reform." After her transfer, inmates renamed it Tihar Anaath Ashram and called it "an orphanage."
Since then, Kiran has continued to be outspoken in favor of human rights, women's rights, and police reform. She has always reserved the right to act as a concerned citizen of her country, although she makes every effort to refrain from criticizing unnecessarily or unjustly. Where police reform is concerned, she emphasizes key areas. Cadets should be trained more thoroughly as leaders, she says; outmoded training practices, such as hazing, should be scrapped. The frequent transfer of police officers from one post to another is counterproductive, she thinks, and leads to poor cadre management. Patronage has no place in a well-run police system, she argues; it undermines professionalism and, by placing the wrong people in positions of authority, ruins the image of the police. Merit should be the sole basis for promotions and appointments. Moreover, Kiran recommends the creation of a new level of police administration, to be occupied by security commissioners; these new officers would act as buffers between politicians and police commissioners, thereby providing greater protection for rank-and-file officers and helping to depoliticize the IPS.
When asked to comment on the position of women in India today, Kiran says, "My concept of a modern woman is a liberated woman. Educated or not, economically independent or not, such a woman is capable of taking her own decisions and standing by them, and-whether she suffers from them or not-she does not look for a shoulder to weep on." Even so, she says, women "need more quality education and much more vocational training to become truly empowered." Property ownership is another key to empowerment. "With ownership (or joint ownership)," she says, "a man cannot drink away the family's property, or sell it and leave the woman and children on the street. Accomplishing that goal has become the number one priority of the National Commission for Women in India, but the government continues to drag its feet. Political parties must come together in support of this program as well as in support of family planning and more equitable educational opportunities. If they do not, the next generation will not have enough schools, teachers, transportation, health care, housing, or work. Such a situation is a recipe for civil unrest." For India as a whole, Kiran says, "the key to change lies in the empowerment of village women-the largest percentage of women in India-but change in rural areas is agonizingly slow in coming."
Empowerment is related to population. "India is a rich country and should be a beautifully developed country," Kiran says. "If population had been controlled twenty years ago there would be surplus rather than scarcity, and current growth would not be held captive by the ever-present need to feed new mouths. Women must learn and be allowed to say, 'No! I don't want any more than this.' When that day arrives, daughters will be seen to be as much of an asset as sons, because educated daughters will be as equally capable to take care of parents in their old age as sons. Therefore, economically empowered women are crucial in the struggle to shape a new India."
In 1994, backing up her commitment to support reform in several areas, Kiran created the India Vision Foundation, a registered nongovernmental organization designed to carry out projects in the fields of prison reform, drug abuse prevention, empowerment of women, assistance to the mentally disabled, and sports promotion. Kiran believes that, given the chance, the honest persons of India-ethical bureaucrats, trustworthy and knowledgeable politicians, talented academicians, and gifted writers, all of whom tend to keep a low public profile-are those who will construct India's future: "Once you control corruption and have cleaned up the election process, you [can] bring in family planning and support it with massive education and personal morality. You have to [send] a moral message all the time. You have to model morality by self-practice; you have to stand and model it yourself. India will follow a model in whom it believes-just as it followed Mahatma Gandhi-because it still has a culture that will follow a moral model. If we can have a lot of good [moral] people serving this country, things will change within a couple of years. India would be a different country."
Over the course of her tennis career, Kiran accrued much glory, earned a good name for herself, and enjoyed outshining all the boys. The same could be said of her career as an IPS officer. She was the first woman to join the service. She was awarded the Police Medal for Gallantry in 1979, the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Solidarity Woman-of-the-Year Award in 1980 and, in 1982, both the Distinguished Woman Award given by Banaras Hindu University and the Shiromani Award. The International Organization of Good Templars (a Norwegian organization) presented her with the Asia Region Award for her work in the field of drug prevention, and the National Award for Outstanding Service by a Government Official in 1989-91. She received an award for outstanding contribution to the Asia-Pacific Conference and the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 1992. In addition, she was awarded a Nehru Fellowship (from the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund) in support of her innovative and humane management at Tihar Prison.
Kiran, who has lived most of her life in the public view, has become a role model for Indian women-the disadvantaged, the marginalized, and the voiceless. Many believe that she literally embodies the struggle for gender equality. She has constantly had to fight against the commonly accepted bias that she is, after all, only female. She has had to battle systems that codify the dehumanization of women, and cultures that are all too willing to toss the talents and potential contributions of women on the rubbish dump. Kiran's "crimes" have included functioning as an equal, speaking the truth as she saw it, having and implementing original ideas, working hard, and garnering success. And her lack of interest in "playing the game," within a service in which professionalism has been replaced by favoritism, has been costly both professionally and personally. Although she has realized her childhood dream to "count for something," her path has not been easy or without the need for sacrifice. Even her achievements and awards for service fuel controversy. Some, in looking at her history, see a dedicated and successful officer. Others, generally from among the ranks of the privileged and powerful, see an uppity woman-a narcissistic, publicity-hungry, regulation-flaunting, self-serving, rogue officer who constantly needs to be kept in her place.
Kiran, however, learned at an early age that she needed to be her own advocate, and her detractors have found, to their dismay, that she does not back down. Still trying to find her way within the IPS, she is reluctant to return to traffic or other more routine police duties now that larger issues have gripped her attention. She wants to be in a position to bring about change-to undertake great human tasks, such as prison reform, that are worthy of a dedication and effort that overstretches the limitations of any one career. She also is interested in human resource management and saddened by the ongoing pattern of mismanagement within the government and police services. Furthermore, time is a consideration. Aware that as she gets older she will have less energy to accomplish her goals, Kiran knows that marking time in a bad assignment would be a waste. Also, she is unwilling to attain a significant posting by selling out her integrity and losing her hard-earned reputation for transparency and accountability. She says:
I have strived to the utmost to achieve not only efficiency but also excellence in all the middle-level assignments that I have undertaken, but now, as I move towards positions which are only politically decided and chosen, where is the place for me, or for people like me? As I see a growing deterioration of value systems, I visualize a declining need for intrepid professionals in government services, i.e., those persons who can speak their mind freely and fearlessly without constantly having to "suck up" to their superiors. In such a scenario fewer chances shall exist for such persons, picked up for tasks which have the potential for impact making, assignments which change courses and carve new goals for the job in hand; in other words, a service which assumes a significant "human face" and which is marked by visibility and transparency. I, therefore, do wonder what next within the service when the overall situation with respect to value orientation only shows a disturbing decadence. What keeps me hopeful is the potential which exists in the "service" to achieve: the power to "correct" and the power to "reform". It is this factor which makes me continue to love my service and prefer it to all others. I do know that such thinking goes against all odds today. What shall ultimately emerge, only time can tell.
Often questioned about her interest in pursuing a political career, Kiran claims not to be attracted by politics as it is "divisive" as she says. Still, any move into the sphere of general community service or human resource management could propel her into the political arena. At this point, she is unwilling to shut any doors; however, she believes that actively seeking a political position while she has a police career ahead would lose her the "power of correction" that she utilizes so skillfully to achieve change. She plans to bide her time, keep her options open, and see which doors open or close. Whatever the outcome, her commitment to family planning, prison reform, women's emancipation, and education for independence will continue.
As Kiran Bedi likes to say, "If you look out to do something, it is always
possible." Anne Dresskell
Banerjee, Saumitra. "Never Say Die." The Telegraph, 28 June 1992, 14-19.
Bedi, Kiran. Interview by James R. Rush. Tape recording. Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, Manila, 30 August 1994.
______. "The Police: Positive Good or Necessary Evil?" Paper presented at Awardees' Forum, Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, Manila, 1 September 1994.
Dangwal, Parmesh. "I Dare!" Kiran Bedi, A Biography. New Delhi: UBS Publishers, 1995.
Khanna, Anshu. "Prem Peshawaria: Attention All Grandmas." Savvy, August 1991.
"Kiran Bedi." Indiatime Women. Retrieved from the World Wide Web: http://www.indiatime. com/women/bedi.htm
McDonald, Hamish. "Profile: Kiran Bedi, Formidable Warden of Delhi Penitentiary." Far Eastern Economic Review, 4 November 1993.
Menon, Rathi A. "My Intense Desire Is to Police the City: Kiran Bedi." Indian Express, 9 October 1998. Retrieved from the World Wide Web: http://www.indian-express.com/ie/ daily/19981010/28351124.html
"New L-G to Shift Kiran Bedi." Hindustan Times (New Delhi), 14 May 1998. Retrieved from the World Wide Web: http://www.hindustantimes.com/nonfram/140598/edtCIT06.htm
Pushkarna, Vijaya. "Ashram for Jailbirds: A New Spirit of Life and Learning in Tihar." The Week, 20 March 1994.
"Tihar Jail: Fast Turning into Ashram." Skeptics India, November 1993, 12.
Various interviews and correspondence with persons familiar with Kiran Bedi and her work; other primary documents.
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