Kiran Bedi on being India’s first woman police officer

March 4, 2010

INDIAOne of India’s most recognised faces, Kiran Bedi is India’s first woman police officer and has a larger-than-life image in a country where police are mostly perceived as inefficient or corrupt or both.

She was an Asian and national tennis champion before she made it to the Indian

Police Service in 1972. Bedi has worked in traffic and narcotics control, prison management and has also been an adviser for United Nations peacekeeping operations.

As head of Delhi’s Tihar jail, one of Asia’s largest, she introduced yoga, meditation and literacy classes for prisoners as part of a reform programme that drew global notice. Bedi broke the mould in a country where many women, particularly in the countryside, continue to be discriminated against and harassed. Her life was also partially adapted to create a TV series that became popular on national television.

Reuters interviewed her ahead of International Women’s Day.

Q: What influenced your decision early in life to join the police force?

A: “My resolve to grow up to make the difference and be the difference. My upbringing, my education based on personal discipline with sensitivity to gender injustices set the foundation of the choice. The rest is destiny.”

Q: As a pioneer in your chosen field, was the going hard for you?

A: “Yes, I was tough on myself. It was uncompromising hard work. Huge multi-tasking. But with an abundance of family support and inner security nothing was hard enough.”

Q: In those days, how difficult or easy was it to be the first woman in the Indian Police Service?

A: “Well, it was as tough as one could think, but as an Asian and National Tennis Champion coming into the demanding service it was a continuity of training in taking on the challenges.”

Q: Did you face discrimination vis-a-vis your male colleagues?

A: “Yes I did. I was always doubted. My past credentials were never enough for the men in position of power. They wanted trusted men. I could not be trusted for blind unlawful unjust orders.”

Q: You have taken some bold initiatives in prison reform. Looking back, what was the one thing you feel needed to be followed up in jails after you left and was never done?

A: “Total education for all (10,000 plus) as a part of the prison day schedule with educated teachers as prisoners. The basis of all reform was mandatory education classes from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. overseen by all the seniors themselves. All inmates classified according to their education need levels, with books and stationery.”

Q: If there was one thing you could change about India what would it be?

A: “Visibility and accountability of all in responsibility. I would make it compulsory for all in position to walk their work daily for two hours of the day. Be it any time any where by surprise.”

Q: How can India best defend itself in terms of security on a local and global level?

A: “By effective governance. Based on integrity and total accountability.”

Q: What kind of threats do women face in India?

A: “All forms of dependence and insecurity.”

Q: Do you feel India is doing enough to sensitize its people about domestic violence?

A: “Yes but not enough as is needed.”

Q: If you were prime minister for a day, what is the first thing you would do to change perceptions about the country?

A: “Show the people the faces of who is responsible for what, and how to hold them accountable thereafter.”

Q: What steps would you suggest so that more women could join the police/armed forces?

A: “Special recruitment of women in sports, NCC (National Cadet Corps), and other leadership activities. As also from tribal areas to be made more inclusive.”

Q: What would be your solution to issues like workplace harassment?

A: “Regularily do one-on-ones. As also open access to all, respond immediately to any complaint of harassment by an independent team and sack anyone indulging in it. That is to raise the risk (level).”

Reuters will host a “follow-the-sun” live blog on Monday, March 8, 2010, International Women’s Day. Please tune in.-

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