The police, who are supposed to be the custodians of society’s law and order have often earned people’s disdain on account of the abusive language they use in addition to the use of punishing canes, as well as money extraction, bribery and custodial deaths.
Here was a police officer with a differences – she won peoples’ hearts!
Kiran Bedi first became famous as India’s first woman IPS Officer. In the early 1980’s she was appointed as Delhi’s Deputy Commissioner of Traffic. When she noticed rampant violation of parking regulations. Bedi hired 16 cranes and had the offending vehicles towed away, including cars that belonged to VIPs. She was nicknamed Crane Bedi. Although the errant car ownes hated her guts, the public admired her for her courage.
“It’s tough, going against the tide but at least you reach where nobody else can ,” she had said then.
When Ms. Bedi was later appointed s to Deputy Commissioner of Delhi’s north district, she took too task the erring lawyers of Delhi. In protest the lawyers paralyzed the court proceedings, yielding to the striking lawyers’ demands; the government transferred Ms. Bedi to the Narcotics Control Bureau.
There she started a movement to introduce de-addiction clinics for addicts.
In May 1993 Ms. Bedi became Inspector General of police in charge of Delhi’s four prisons, including India’s largest prison complex, Tihar jail.
Known for their notoriety, these jails were overcrowded, stinking and regarded as dens of crime. Prisoners were left to rot. 9000 prisoners were undertriales , forming 90 percent of the Tihar jail population!
Ms Bedi attempted to reform the prisoners, not with the punishing hand, but with meditation and yoga, which she described as “ the ethical therapy that helps the inner cleansing process”. “You don’t have to flaunt authority or use a lathi to reform people,” she said.
The prisoners had become a burden on the exchequer. The 45-year-old Ms Bedi began “industrializing prisons”. She started vocational classes like pen making and electronics for men and carpet weaving and dress designing for women. To sell these products she formed cooperatives and the profits earned by the prisoners were deposited in their names in the bank opened inside the prison walls.
To remove the stigma attached to prisoners, Ms Bedi involved the community. More than 300 NGOs helped educate the inmates, even providing them health care.
She set a personal example by mixing freely with the inmates without wearing her uniform.
Her juniors admired her as an honest an inspiring role model. But her critics regarded her as arrogant and a publicity seeker.
In recognition of her work Ms Bedi was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service in July 1994. As the citation read, “in all her innovations there is a pattern. Each one seeks to break adversarial relations between police and community.”
For India’s first woman police officer, life has been always a fight-often, a lonely fight- “it is a fight for survival, a fight for you convictions, a fight for the truth,” says she.