Kiran Bedi: A fighter on many fronts | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 08.03.2012
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Kiran Bedi: A fighter on many fronts

Charismatic, courageous and confident, 62-year-old Kiran Bedi is a woman with a thousand faces and a thousand ideas - but, above all, a big heart. She was the first woman to join the Indian Police Service.

Kiran Bedi's career as a police officer began in 1972 and she ended it in one of the top positions. But she has always been that warning voice raised in anger and protest against every injustice. She is a woman who has become a role model for men as well by virtue of her independence, her toughness and her eloquence.

The lady with the short, no-nonsense haircut never lacked courage in taking on the establishment even while working as a part of it. Towards the beginning of the eighties, when she was the Deputy Commissioner of Traffic for the capital, she had no compunctions giving the order that the falsely parked car of the then prime minister - Mrs. Indira Gandhi - should be towed away. As chief of the Tihar jail of New Delhi - with the rank of an Inspector General of Police - Bedi introduced Yoga and meditation courses for the inmates, a revolutionarily progressive measure in those days.

Kiran Bedi addressing journalists

Kiran Bedi is a very prominent figure in India

'One of us'

The 'kiran' in Kiran Bedi's name means a ray of light. Witty Delhi residents had changed it to the sobriquet of 'Crane Bedi' in an appreciative and respectful reference to the incident of the towing away of the prime minister's car. Years later, Bedi would be writing in her blog (www.kiran-bedi.blogspot.com) that a crane is mostly used for removing obstacles, which is what she has been doing for a major part of her life.

Kiran's credo, as expressed by her in many a speech, is that "every person has an important task in society." She herself has been able to write all her books mainly because a housemaid relieved her of a lot of household duties, Bedi acknowledged openly. This democratic and egalitarian streak in Bedi is what makes her so popular with the masses, leading a Facebook page to demand that she should become the prime minister.

Kiran Bedi in 1997

Kiran Bedi came to Frankfurt, Germany, in 1997 to receive the Joseph Beuys Award

Happy childhood

Kiran Bedi was born on June 9, 1949, in Amritsar in the western state of Punjab as the second of four sisters. Her parents did not spare any pains in raising the daughters, giving them the upbringing and the education that they deserved - which was unusual for the time. Bedi's mother, who died in 1999, is still her idol and a shining example, as Bedi says to this day.

Bedi did her undergraduate studies in English literature before switching to political science for her masters and ultimately acquiring a doctorate degree. She and her sisters were all excellent tennis players, one of them, Anu, even making it to Wimbledon. Kiran herself won the Asian championship when she was 22. Word has it that she met her future husband, Brij, on the tennis court. The couple have a daughter, Saina.

Bedi has had her share of difficult assignments as a police officer. Having been allotted to the erstwhile Union Territories cadre, she has done a stint in the remote north-east, in Mizoram, a state hardly touched by modern development, compared to other Indian states. To present, she has also served as the director general of the federal Narcotics Control Bureau. She has been in charge of the Tihar jail, known to be the biggest prison facility in Asia. She has also worked as a police advisor for UN peacekeeping operations.

When Bedi decided to quit government service in 2007, she could look back upon a career spanning 35 years. She was serving as the director general of India's Bureau of Police Research and Development at the time. But, as Bedi told the prime minister in her application: "I need a new challenge." Today that challenge consists of fighting corruption at the side of Anna Hazare, the elderly Gandhian who has led a mass movement in favor of certain amendments to the government's anti-corruption ombudsman bill. And she has founded an NGO with the name of Navjyoti or 'new light' for women's rights, universal education and the rehabilitation of former drug addicts.

Prominence brings detractors

Kiran Bedi was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1994 for her life's work, a prize which is considered to be the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. But neither the Magsaysay, nor any of the other national and international awards which have been showered on Bedi can really prevent many in India from feeling that Bedi's presence in public life and the media might be a bit too pervasive.

The down side of her prominence is that rumors keep springing up: in one case, Bedi is supposed to have indulged in irregularities regarding her travel bills; in another case, there's the accusation that donations for her social projects do not really go to alleviate the needs of the poor. Official enquiries are afoot. Bedi's answer to such rumors is: "I am sorry to disappoint detractors trying real hard to find a smoking gun. However, I accept this kind of coverage as a part of the challenges which being in public life poses."

Author: Priya Essilborn / ac
Editor: Sarah Berning

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