Whenever we think of Kiran Bedi, an image of a woman in Indian Police Officers’ dress with a stern yet confident look crops up in our head. During a shining career of over 45 years, starting out as a lecturer, she has been an example that no change is easy and one must tirelessly work hard to achieve her goals. In her words, “I know how to work and how to get work done.” Always dressed in simple clothes, with spectacles and a smile, she is the role model of many women who want to do good for the society and feel empowered through that.
She was the first woman to join the Indian Police Services (IPS) in 1972 and also achieve the highest rank help by a woman in IPS. There is so much more before that and after her stint in the IPS that makes her a wonder woman and a powerful force in this country. Highly recognized for her reforms in Tihar jail during her posting as Inspector General of Delhi Prisons, Kiran Bedi has been the recipient of many awards including the Ramon Magsaysay Award, considered as the Asian Nobel Award. She took voluntary retirement in 2007 from IPS and became a social activist. She later joined politics under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wing in 2015. Currently, at the age of 69, she is continuing to render her service to the Nation through her work as the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry.
The Beginning- Her childhood & early education
Kiran Bedi was born in Amritsar, 2 years after independence, on June 9, 1949. She was the second of out of the four daughters of the family. Her family had relocated from Peshawar to Amritsar, where they had established a successful business. Her parents were very keen on providing quality education to their daughters and sent all of them to a convent school, Sacred Heart Convent School. Though her grandfather opposed education from a Christian school, her father was relentless. She studied there till class 8th and moved to Cambridge College to study further. Kiran Bedi obtained her BA honours degree from a government college for women in Amritsar in 1968 and, thereafter, got a master’s degree in political science from the Punjab University. Throughout her early education and childhood, Kiran was involved in many sports and extracurricular activities. She started playing tennis when she was 9, inspired by her father who was an avid tennis player.
The Making -Further Education and extracurricular activities
Kiran Bedi was awarded the National Cadet Corps Officers Award in 1970, the same year she got her master’s degree. She had been an active part of NCC since her school days. She started her career as a lecturer at Khalsa College soon after finishing her masters and continued teaching till 1972. She has always been a learner and seeker, which led her to study even during her career as the first woman IPS officer. She holds a law degree from Delhi University and a PhD from IIT’s Department of Social Sciences. The topic of her PhD thesis was Drug Abuse and Domestic Violence which was drawn from her work in Mizoram as a Deputy Inspector General.
Kiran Bedi remained an active tennis player till 1978 and won many tournaments. As a teenager, she won the Junior National Lawn Tennis Championship and later won Women’s National Lawn Tennis Championship at the age of 28. She married a fellow tennis player Raj Bedi in 1972, the year in which she joined the IPS. She played tennis till the age of 30.
The Performance-As the first woman IPS officer
During her role as a lecturer in Khalsa College, Kiran Bedi began to prepare for the IPS exams which she cleared in 1972 and joined the forces. She served as an active part of the forces till 2007. In a career spanning decades, Kiran served at different location and at different positions. What made her stood her was her courage as woman officer to bring about reforms in educating and rehabilitating the youth. In the words of Kiran Bedi, “Empowered women who reach tough or unconventional positions make choices, not sacrifices.” She was bold, fearless and moral in her work as the first woman IPS officer.
Her first posting was in Delhi in 1975, the same year her daughter was born. During this tenure she fought crime in Delhi by working with the common people and empowering her subordinates. Later, she also acted as the DCP traffic in Delhi and spared no one, including the elite people and government officials, if they violated traffic protocols. She was moved to Goa for three years and came back to Delhi to fight against drugs abuse in the city, which was a prime concern in 1986. Her work as an activist against drugs and alcohol abuse continued when she was posted in Mizoram, a rather difficult post for an IPS officer. Her work included setting up correction centres for alcoholics, rehabilitation centres for drug abuse and vocational training to make lives worthwhile.
Her most recognised efforts as an IPS officer were during her years at Tihar jail where was the Inspector General. She continued showcasing the work of providing more meaning to the lives of those around her. She transformed Tihar jail, an overpacked jail premises with little facilites, into a place where health camps, vocational training, meditation center, weaving units, bakery and many other facilities were implemented to help prisoners find peace and meaning in lives. She received worldwide acclaim for her work and in 1994, she was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for her work.
After her successful stint at Tihar jail, Kiran continued to serve in other parts of the country. She was appointed as the United Nations civilian police adviser, the first ever woman to receive the honour. With the wish to be more active as an academic and social worker, she took voluntary retirement in 2007 from IPS as the highest ranking woman officer.
The home- her personal life
After marrying Raj Bedi in 1972, Kiran Bedi gave birth to her daughter, Saina (earlier known as Sukriti) in 1975; the same year as her first posting in Delhi. Kiran was very close to her family and parents till the duties of a dedicated IPS officer left her little time and incidents to be with her family. She moved various location throughout her career and couldn’t get to be by her family in times of need. Her mother died in 1999 after suffering from a stroke and going into coma for 41 days. Kiran could only spend three days with her before her mother breathed her last.
Kiran Bedi’s marriage also was estranged due to lack of proximity as her husband continued to stay in Amritsar and did not move around with her job locations. They stayed married till his death in the year 2016.
The Continuation- After retirement from IPS
Kiran Bedi stood strong through many stages of life and career which can be challenging for any woman. Be it taking a stand for her colleagues, standing strong against political pressure, remaining unfazed by false allegations, leaving her family and daughter to serve in different parts of country or not being able to stay with her ill mother; Kiran sailed through all of it to serve her country and the people. Till today she fights for the rights of people to basic necessities like hygiene and education.
She runs two NGOs- Navjyoti India Foundation in 2007 and India Vision Foundation which are largely involved in providing vocational training, counselling, soft skills training and health care facilities to the poor segments of the society.
She joined the Anti Corruption movement with Anna Hazare in 2011 and later joined Bharatiya Janata Party by supporting the party in 2014 elections. Currently as the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry she is continuing her focus on rural development, youth development, cleanliness and health care.
More feathers- Awards and recognition
Kiran Bedi isn’t just a fearless woman who stood by what she felt was right but she has always been sure of her capabilities to put things right. In an interview she once said, “I had a clear vision: if I take up an assignment, I’ll do full justice to it; otherwise I’ll walk away.” She has the perspective to find ways of accomplishing tasks, always trying to help the underprivileged. She was recognised as “The Most Admired Woman in the COuntry” in 2006 and also got the United Nations Medal in 2004 for her outstanding achievements and unique approaches to administrative work.
She has been featured in many documentaries and biographies including the award winning ‘Kiran Bedi:Yes Madam, Sir’ which was judged as the “Best Documentary” at Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2009. In 2018, National Geographic features her in their series “Mega Icons” for her work spanning decades.
Kiran Bedi is also an author and a powerful public speaker. One of her most famous works as a writer is the book titles “I dare” which outlines her perspective of the workings of government and police forces. It also talks about her retirement from IPS and her passion for human welfare. As a speaker, Kiran Bedi gave a Ted Talk titled “Kiran Bedi- a police chief with a difference” in 2010 at TedWomen platform. She has spoken at various other conferences and platforms worldwide about women empowerment and youth development.