FEMLEADS STORY - Kiran Bedi

FEMLEADS STORY - Kiran Bedi

For today, I chose the woman who has since my childhood been the epitome of woman power for me, an example to be admired, emulated and shared: Dr. Kiran Bedi, India’s first woman to join officer ranks of the Indian Police Services.

Kiran Bedi was born on 9th June, 1949 in Amritsar, in a well-to-do Punjabi business family. She is the second of four daughters of Prakash Lal Peshawaria and Prem Lata (née Janak Arora). She has three sisters: Shashi, Reeta and Anu. Her great-great grandfather Lala Hargobind had migrated from Peshawar to Amritsar, where he set up a business. Kiran's upbringing was not very religious, but she was brought up in both Hindu and Sikh traditions (her grandmother was a Sikh). Her father helped with the family's textile business, and also played tennis. Her grandfather Muni Lal controlled the family business, and gave an allowance to her father. He cut this allowance when Kiran's elder sister Shashi was enrolled in the Sacred Heart Convent School, Amritsar. Although the school was 16 km away from their home, Shashi's parents believed it offered better education than other schools. Her grandfather was opposed to his grandchild being educated in a Christian school. However, Kiran’s father declared financial independence, and went on to enroll all his daughters, including Kiran, in the same school. Kiran started her formal studies in 1954, at the Sacred Heart Convent School in Amritsar. She participated in National Cadet Corps (NCC), among other extra-curricular activities. At that time, Sacred Heart did not offer science; instead, it had a subject called "household", which was aimed at grooming girls into good housewives. When she was in Class 9, she joined Cambridge College, a private institute that offered science education and prepared her for matriculation exam. By the time her former schoolmates at Sacred Heart cleared Class 9, she cleared Class 10 (matriculation) exam. Kiran graduated in 1968, with a BA (Honours) in English, from Government College for Women at Amritsar. The same year, she won the NCC Cadet Officer Award. In 1970, she obtained a master's degree in political science from Punjab University, Chandigarh. From 1970 to 1972, Kiran taught as a lecturer at Khalsa College for Women in Amritsar. She taught courses related to political science. Later, during her career in the Indian Police Service, she also earned a law degree at Delhi University in 1988 and a Ph.D. from IIT Delhi's Department of Social Sciences in 1993.

Inspired by her father, Kiran started playing tennis at the age of nine. As a teenage tennis player, she cut her hair short as they interfered with her game. In 1964, she played her first tournament outside Amritsar, participating in the national junior lawn tennis championship at Delhi Gymkhana. She lost in early rounds, but won the trophy two years later, in 1966. As the national champion, she was eligible for entry to the Wimbledon junior championship, but was not nominated by the Indian administration. Between 1965 and 1978, she won several tennis championships.

As a young woman, Kiran frequented the Service Club in Amritsar, where interaction with senior civil servants inspired her to take up a public service career. On 16th July, 1972, she started her police training at the National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie. She was the only woman in a batch of 80 men, and became the first woman IPS officer. After a 6-month foundation course, she underwent another 9 months of police training at Mount Abu in Rajasthan, and further training with Punjab Police in 1974. Based on a draw, she was allocated to the union territory cadre (now called AGMUT or Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram-Union Territories cadre). Her first posting was to the Chanakyapuri subdivision of Delhi in 1975. The same year, she became the first woman to lead the all-male contingent of the Delhi Police at the Republic Day Parade in 1975. Her daughter Sukriti (later Saina) was born in September 1975.

Chanakyapuri was an affluent area that included the Parliament building, foreign embassies, and the residences of the Prime Minister and the President. The crimes in the area were mainly limited to minor thefts, but political demonstrations (which sometimes turned violent) were a regular occurrence. During the 1970s, there were many clashes between Nirankari and Akali Sikhs. On 15th November, 1978, a group of Nirankaris held a congregation near India Gate. A contingent of 700–800 Akalis organized a demonstration against them. DCP Kiran Bedi's platoon was deployed to stop the protesters and prevent violence. As the protesters resorted to brick-batting, Bedi charged them with a cane, although there was no tear gas squad to support her unit. One of the demonstrators ran towards her with a naked sword, but she charged him as well as other demonstrators with a cane. Ultimately, her unit was able to disperse the demonstrators. For this action, Bedi was awarded the President's Police Medal for Gallantry (1979), in October 1980.

In 1979, she was posted to Delhi's West District, where there were not enough officers to handle the high volume of criminal activity. To compensate, she started recruiting civilian volunteers. Each village in the district was night patrolled by six civilians led by an armed policeman. She enabled anonymous reporting of any knowledge about crimes. She clamped down on bootlegging and the illicit liquor business to reduce crimes in the area. Bedi implemented an open door policy, which encouraged citizens to interact with her. She implemented a "beat box" system: a complaint box was installed in each ward, and the beat constables were instructed to have their lunch near this box at a set time each day. She regularly asked people if they knew about the beat constable assigned to their area, and also walked with the constables to raise their self-esteem. Within 3 months, there was a reduction in crimes. There was a drop in cases related to "eve-teasing" (sexual harassment of women) and wife beating. This gained her the goodwill of local women, who also volunteered their services to help fight crime in the area.

In October 1981, Bedi was made DCP (Traffic). The preparation for the 1982 Asian Games had caused traffic snarls in the city. The construction of 19 sports stadiums and several flyovers had resulted in a number of blockades and diversions. Bedi encouraged coordination between the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking and Delhi Development Authority. She clamped down on errant motorists with a heavy hand. She replaced challans (traffic tickets) with spot fines. Her team towed improperly parked vehicles using six tow trucks ("cranes") for traffic control. This earned her the nickname "Crane Bedi". On 5th August, 1982, an Ambassador car (DHI 1817) belonging to Prime Minister Office was towed away by sub-inspector Nirmal Singh, as it was wrongly parked outside the Yusufzai Market at Connaught Place. Singh was fully supported by Kiran and her superior Ashok Tandon. In the 1980s, Kiran Bedi attracted ire of Delhi politicians and lawyers. First, she ordered lathi charge on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assembly in Red Fort area, and arrested its leaders. A few months later, she arrested Congress (I) MP J.P. Agarwal for violating curfew orders.

In September 1992, her daughter Sukriti applied for a seat in Lady Hardinge Medical College (Delhi), under a quota for Mizoram residents, while Kiran Bedi was posted at Mizoram. Students of Mizoram launched a violent agitation against the allocation, on the grounds that she was a non-Mizo. Sukriti had topped the merit list with 89% marks, and was given seat from the Central pool, according to the government guidelines. Mizoram's Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla asked her to surrender the seat in "the larger interests of the state", although he accepted that "there was nothing illegal in her daughter getting the seat". Kiran Bedi refused to surrender the seat, saying that her daughter deserved the seat. As the protests turned violent, Kiran received threats that her house would be set on fire. Her superiors told her that they could no longer protect her. She left Aizawl after submitting her leave application. Her parents and daughter had already left for Delhi by this time. Lal Thanhawla accused her of insubordination.

After leaving her Mizoram assignment incomplete in September 1992, Bedi had to wait eight months for a new posting. In May 1993, she was posted to the Delhi Prisons as inspector general (IG). The Tihar Jail of Delhi was built as a four-jail complex with a capacity of 2,500 prisoners. However, by the time Bedi became its in-charge, its prisoner population varied from 8,000 to 9,500. About 90% of its inmates were undertrials, who had been accused of non-bailable offences. Some of them had been waiting for years to get a trial in a badly clogged court system. The prison had a budget of Rs. 15 crore, which was just enough to pay for basic expenditure, leaving little for welfare programmes. Tihar was notorious as a violent and unmanageable place, and no officer wanted to be posted there. The post had been lying vacant for nine months, before Bedi was posted there. Kiran decided to turn Tihar into a model prison. She introduced several reforms. She arranged separate barracks for the hardened criminals, who had been using their time in prison to recruit gang members, sell contraband and extort money. These prisoners unsuccessfully challenged her in court for unfairly segregating them. For other prisoners, she arranged vocational training with certificates, so that they could find a job after their release. During her tenure, Indira Gandhi National Open University and National Open School set up their centers inside the prison. Legal cells were set up to help the undertrials. She banned smoking in the prison. The move faced a lot of resistance from the staff as well as the prisoners. She introduced yoga and Vipassana meditation classes to change the prisoners' attitudes. She organized additional activities such as sports, prayer, and festival celebrations. She also established a de-addiction center, and pulled up or imprisoned the staff members involved in drug supply. A bank was also opened inside the prison. A bakery and small manufacturing units, including carpentry and weaving units, were set up in the jail. The profits from the products sold were put into the prisoners' welfare fund. She went on daily prison tours, observing the staff, listening to prisoners' complaints, inspecting food quality and evaluating overall management. She developed a panchayat 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. She also established petition boxes so that prisoners could write to the IG about any issue. While the jail had suggestion boxes earlier too, the jail staff would destroy the complaints received through these boxes. On the other hand, the prisoners writing to her received acknowledgment and information about the status of their petition. In this prison reform programme, Bedi involved outsiders – including NGOs, schools, civilians and former inmates. As a result of Bedi's reforms, there was a drop in the fights and disturbances in the jail. Even the hardened criminals, who had been isolated in separate barracks, started behaving well. She then arranged for them to attend education and meditation courses. Her reform programme at Tihar received worldwide acclaim. But it also attracted envy from her superiors, who accused her of diluting prison security for personal glory. She was not on good terms with her immediate supervisor in the government, the Minister for Prisons Harsharan Singh Balli. Many members of Balli's party, the BJP, had not forgiven her for her lathi charge on the party's assembly in the 1980s. However, until March 1995, Kiran Bedi was on good terms with BJP's Delhi Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana. Khurana was a prisoner in Tihar during the Emergency, and appreciated her work for prisoners.

In 1994, Kiran Bedi was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award and the Nehru Fellowship. The Magsaysay Foundation recognized her leadership and innovations in crime control, drug rehabilitation, and humane prison reform. The US President Bill Clinton invited her to National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.. When the Delhi Government refused to let her accept the invitation, she lobbied with the Union Home Ministry to get the clearance. However, the Home Minister S.B. Chavan declined the permission. Clinton repeated the invitation in 1995, and this time, she approached the media. The New York Times published a report stating that "several politicians and her superiors were feeling cut up with her assertive style and the success that followed her". Under pressure from the public and the media, Chavan allowed her to attend the Breakfast. However, this episode won her several detractors in the government.

Her removal from Tihar is also considered an episode of political vendetta. After her removal from Tihar, Bedi was posted as head of training at the police academy on 4th May, 1995. Her designation was Additional Commissioner (policy and planning). She served as the Joint Commissioner of Police of Delhi Police. Later, she served as the Special Commissioner (Intelligence) of Delhi Police.

In 2003, Kiran Bedi became the first woman to be appointed the United Nations civilian police adviser. She worked in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Before her retirement, she was serving as the Director General of the Bureau of Police Research and Development. In 2007, Bedi applied for the post of Delhi Police Commissioner. She was overlooked in favour of Yudhvir Singh Dadwal, who was junior to her, reportedly because the senior bureaucrats saw her as too "outspoken and radical". She alleged bias, and stated that her merit had been overlooked. She also proceeded for a three-month 'protest leave', but canceled it later. Journalists like Karan Thapar and Pankaj Vohra criticized her for crying bias, and stated that her service record was tainted with controversies. She resigned from police service in November 2007, citing personal reasons. She stated that she wanted to focus on academic and social work.

The Navjyoti Delhi Police Foundation founded by her and her colleagues was renamed to Navjyoti India Foundation in 2007. Since its establishment, the Foundation received strong support from the local communities, as well several Indian and foreign charitable trusts and government bodies. It provided residential treatment to nearly 20,000 drug and alcohol addicts. It also started crime prevention programmes such as education of street children and slum kids. It established 200 single-teacher schools, vocational training centers, health care facilities and counselling centers for the vulnerable sections of society. In 2010, it also established the Navjyoti Community College, affiliated to IGNOU. Kiran also set up India Vision Foundation (IVF) in 1994. IVF works in fields of police reforms, prison reforms, women empowerment and rural and community development. In police reform area, Bedi emphasized better training, while opposing hazing of trainees. She opposed frequent transfers, stating that these lead to poor cadre management. She also proposed creation of a new level of police administration, which would protect rank-and-file officers from politicians and bureaucrats. In women's rights area, she has advocated equitable educational opportunities and property ownership (including co-ownership) for women. She has emphasized faster empowerment of rural women. During 2008 - 11, she hosted the reality TV show Aap Ki Kachehri on STAR Plus. In this court show, Bedi resolved everyday conflicts in a simulated courtroom. In 2008, she even launched a website to help people whose complaints are not accepted by the local police.

In October 2010, Arvind Kejriwal invited her to join him in exposing the CWG scam. She accepted the invitation, and by 2011, the two had allied with other activists, including Anna Hazare, to form India Against Corruption (IAC) group. Their campaign evolved into the 2011 Indian anti-corruption movement. Anna Hazare planned an indefinite hunger strike to demand the passage of a stronger Jan Lokpal Bill in the Indian Parliament. On 16th August, 2011, Kiran and other key members of IAC were detained by the police, four hours before the hunger strike could start. She and other activists were released later on the same day. After twelve days of protests and many discussions between the government and the activists, the Parliament passed a resolution to consider three points in drafting of Lokpal bill.

Kiran Bedi split from IAC after a faction led by Arvind Kejriwal formed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in 2012. AAP went on to form a short-lived minority government in Delhi with Kejriwal as Chief Minister (CM). During the 2014 Indian general election, she publicly supported Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Kejriwal, on the other hand, contested the election against Modi. After Modi won and became the Prime Minister of India, Bedi stated that she was ready to be BJP's CM candidate in Delhi, if such an offer was made to her. Eight months after Modi's election, she joined BJP in 2015. She was BJP's Chief Minister (CM) candidate for the 2015 Delhi Assembly elections, in which Arvind Kejriwal was AAP's CM candidate. She lost the election from Krishna Nagar constituency to AAP candidate SK Bagga by a margin of 2277 votes, and AAP came to power again with an absolute majority after one year.

Source: Wikipedia. (There is so much information available on Kiran Bedi that this is just a concise extract from her Wikipedia entry.)

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