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Human Face

For BuCor, a Kiran Bedi

/ 05:10 AM September 19, 2019

1994 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Government Service Kiran Peshawaria Bedi, a woman officer from the Indian Police Service, was cited for “building confidence in India’s police through dynamic leadership and effective innovations in crime control, drug rehabilitation, and human prison reform.”

I was lucky enough to meet her briefly when the RM Awards Foundation asked me to be in the panel of reactors at Bedi’s public lecture. What a woman! She knew whereof she spoke, and she spoke with authority, clarity and confidence. Unknown to most Filipinos, she was already quite a known public figure in India. A celebrity, if you may.

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In 1993, when Bedi became inspector general of prisons in Delhi, she took charge of Tihar, India’s largest prison complex. She had already been in the service for 22 years and had served in various capacities.

Bedi spent her early years in a Catholic school in Amritsar, did excellently in school, breezed through college and a master’s degree. In 1972, she entered the police academy and became the first woman to join the elite Indian Police Service. She rose rapidly and won national acclaim and a presidential award when, as the RM citation says, in 1978 she “singlehandedly (drove) off a band of club-and-sword-wielding demonstrators with her police baton.”

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The athletic and pixie-faced Kiran is married to Brij Bedi, whom she met at a tennis match. They have a daughter.

When Bedi became deputy commissioner of Delhi’s West and North Districts, she posted cops in blue-and-white “beat boxes,” where citizens could consult them. She gave friendly livelihood loans to former bootleggers, set up women’s committees and organized communities. Crimes fell.

She set up detoxification clinics, something she later applied when she became deputy director of the Narcotics Control Bureau.

But it was when she took charge of India’s largest prison complex in Tihar that Bedi was truly in her element. The complex had been described as a “brutally overcrowded purgatory” where more than 8,000 prisoners were kept, many of them unconvicted.

Bedi introduced reforms and created a regimen of work, study, play and even meditation. Illiterate prisoners were taught how to read and write, while others went for higher learning. Skills training for livelihood was part of the regimen, preparing prisoners for life outside the walls.

Even before she became inspector general of prisons, one could already see a pattern and method in her innovations: “Break(ing) down adversarial relations between the police and the community, and each one seeks to replace the hard hand of punishment with the healing hand of rehabilitation.”

In her RM Awards response, Bedi said that “when I decided to join the elite Indian Police Service, I saw in it a great potential for ‘the power to do, the power to get things done and the power to correct.’ I do firmly believe that the police in any country can be the greatest protector of human rights and the rule of law—as it can well be the greatest violator of both.” She explained those powers.

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India and the world took notice and hailed her work. Bouyed by the RM Award, Bedi set up India Vision Foundation, her contribution, she says, to India’s future. The foundation has programs on drug abuse prevention, women empowerment, sports promotion, help for the mentally challenged and, most of all, prison reform.

In 2003, Kiran was appointed United Nations civilian police adviser. She was the first woman to hold the position in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Bedi also believes in “the power of the team.” “Leaders of the police or government, if they want results, need to form teams and allow them initiatives, delegation, support, noninterference and training, with total emphasis on professional integrity. (Emphasis mine.) While personal example is crucial, sharing of achievements will lead to more results. This will lead to not only ‘keeping security’ but creating security.”

There’s more about Bedi in the RM Awards website and in the foundation’s “Great Men and Women of Asia” series, edited by Lorna Kalaw Tirol. (I have some of my stories there, too.) The story on Bedi (“The Cop Who Made a Difference”) was written by Angelina G. Goloy.

Might our badly tarnished Bureau of Corrections learn a thing or two from Bedi?

Send feedback to [email protected]

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TAGS: Human Face, Indian Police Service, Kiran Peshawaria Bedi, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
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