Opportunities Today :- November 2004 Issue

Interview of  Dr. Kiran Bedi


Dr. Kiran Bedi-the first woman IPS officer and great reformer speaks about her achievements, vision and views on vital issues.

Dr. Kiran Bedi is a trailblazer, admired and loved by many in India. She broke new ground by joining the elite Indian Police Service in 1972, the first woman in India to do so. Her humane and fearless approach has contributed greatly to innumerable innovative policing and prison reforms. She is today the most celebrated police officer, having been awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service, also called the Asian Nobel Prize, the Joseph Beuys Award by a German foundation and the Asia Region Award for Drug Prevention & Control by the International Organisation of Good Templars(IOGT), a Norwegian organisation. Her appointment as the United Nations Civilian Police Adviser was also the first time an Indian was given this rare honour.


Tell us about your family and educational background.
I was born in a family of four girls and studied at Sacred Heart Convent School and graduated in English (Honours) at the Government College in Punjab. After completing my Masters in Political Science at the Punjab University and LLB from Delhi University, I obtained a Ph. D from the Department of Social Sciences, at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi. My thesis was on 'Drug Abuse and Domestic Violence'.

In addition, in tennis, I represented India against Sri Lanka and successfully returned with the prestigious Lionel Fonseka Memorial trophy and also won the inter-state tennis trophy for Punjab University. My love for tennis comes from my father, who was an excellent tennis player.

How did you enter the I.P.S. and what inspired you to enter this male dominated profession?
As a girl, I saw a lot of differentiations in society the difference between the rich and the poor, the weak and the strong and between the two sexes. This had a deep impact on me and I made up my mind never to fall prey to any form of differentiation. To avoid such a situation, I needed to be in a commanding position and be with the haves, so that I could then help the less fortunate.

My parents were very encouraging and as I was a sports girl, I loved outdoor work. I was imagining one day being a part of my Government and serving my own country. Police became a natural choice at the time of my writing my examination. Police stood out for me as a symbol of instant justice. A protector of human rights, when it worked the right way. What attracted me towards policing was it's inherent power to do so much good… “Policing has the 'power to correct' the 'power to do ' and the 'power to get things done.' These factors inspired me to join the police force.

How do you explain that on one hand the police are considered irredeemably corrupt and on the other is one of the few in the world that has been conducive to the success of a woman like you? 
It is this paradox that attracted me to the police force. The moon is dark on one side and bright on the other. It is the brightness of the Indian Police Service that attracted me and that brightness, as I saw it, was the power to correct. I saw the corrupt side but I knew what I could do with what I had.

Tell us about your first day in the police.
My first day in the police was July 16, 1972. I was the only woman in the IPS and remember being asked a lot of questions like 'Are you sure you want to do this?', 'Have you thought about your family?',' Why did you choose to be here?. There was a lot of amazement and doubt. I kept telling myself 'don't change your mind'. I was going by my ‘swadharm'(self religion) .

What were the difficulties you encountered and how did you overcome them?
Glass ceilings were there, but these kept getting shattered as I focused on my work alone. It was for others to notice, while my eye was on what I do with what I have. And how do I do it the best. 

Please tell us about your experiences in various positions in the Police force.
As Inspector-General of the largest prison in any liberal democracy-Tihar prison, I supervised 11,000 people. Normally, prisons are used as dumping grounds for human beings. We turned it around in two years, into a reformatory actually. A book came out of it, titled “It's Always Possible”. A whole new concept of crime prevention, prison management and community policing is developed in it. We raised many issues: about the relationship between prison systems and crime prevention and about the concepts of welfare and community policing. We advocated using prisons to dry-clean people instead of contaminating them. The book has been published in many languages, being used as a textbook in some countries. I was also involved in police training and in transforming the Delhi institute, from a college into an academy. 

What are the community services you are involved in?
Crime prevention has always been a priority in all my postings and despite my demanding official work, I initiated a large amount of voluntary service in various fields of social development, which have a direct bearing on crime prevention and crime correction. I set up 'Navjyoti' in 1986 for working in the field of drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation. 'Navjyoti' has till now treated over 12,000 drug addicts. It is on special consultative status with Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. The program, run by a team of dedicated professionals and volunteers, received the United Nations Serge Sotiroff Memorial award in 1999, chosen from over a hundred worldwide nominations. 'Navjyoti' is a pioneer in India in its holistic treatment module.

After the receipt of the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1994, I set up 'India Vision Foundation' to work in the field of prison reforms, crime prevention, education, rural development, physical and mental disabilities, sports promotion etc. A great deal of work has been accomplished in the field of children's education through its projects. Children of prisoners are educated under the 'Crime Home Children' project and children in slums who are otherwise beggars, rag pickers, gamblers and drug peddlers have schools at their doorsteps in the 'Gali School' project (gali=street in hindi). The motive has been to Save the Next Victim, while rehabilitating the present one. In it's 'Rural Development Project' the foundation organizes disability assessment and aid distribution camps for the benefit of residents of remote areas inaccessible to many. 

Tell us about your experiences with the United Nations? 
The United Nations is a dream place for any police officer. For me it came as a call from my government suggesting me to apply for the position I served in. Initially I was hesitant, for it would have meant being away from family and my own work within the Delhi Police, which was very rewarding. I obviously did not know much about what was in it. But once I was explained its potential, I prepared. And the rest of it is destiny. I am greatful to the United Nations that I was considered worthy of the appointment.

How did your work at the UN differ from that in India?
My expectations about the UN were that it would be really the change agent. But it was too slow for my temperament. I took my time to understand the broad reasons: The UN is a heterogeneous conglomeration. It works through constant consultations and consensus among its Member States. And I fully respect that. I came from a very homogenous environment where consensus was quicker and relatively easier to achieve. In the UN you are also far away from the field of direct operations.

 Hence it's more paper, concepts, meetings and talks: all essential, but a little more than required. Decisions take longer and sometimes, those not in your field, are actually overseeing and probably wanting to run it for you. All this inhibits and slows initiatives. I have had to hold myself back from many, but then it's important to understand what is possible and what is not and do your best in the given situation. But despite that we (The Police Division) achieved considerably in breaking new grounds in international policing concepts.

My job at home was more hands on and I am more comfortable with that. There it was more pen and paper, more theoretical, though I had a great team which encompassed16 nationalities. The challenge as far as diversity presents (itself) was exciting. At home, I had a ready team, whereas there, I had to build one. Job satisfaction is greater back home because there is greater visibility of the receiver. There we had more anonymity. In India, you can cook for somebody and see them enjoying and tasting it. There you cook and don't know if it's liked, who is eating it or whether it is being eaten at all. The joy of satisfaction, which I am really used to, is not there. 

What are the qualities that helped you to rise so high in your career?
I was myself and not someone else. But one who was willing to learn, share, communicate, give, confident of myself and spread joy. I was never punishing at all. The whole approach was enabling for others to realize their potential. It was a spirit of co-option, inclusivity of all. Due to this, co-operation for my work was tremendous. And at no place of work did it suffer, due to lack of support from my team members, ever. However challenging the tasks they were always there. Even in life threatening situations I faced and vice versa. I am at peace with myself. Each day of my life has a sense of fulfillment. I value opportunities and a lot of hard work and personal taxation goes into translating opportunities into action. Every assignment has been fulfilling because all benefit the common man. My vision remains intact.

What is your philosophy of life and how has it helped you?
It is the belief in a scientific principle that, the fundamental law of nature, is to change. So I am clear in the options that I have. The right option I practice is to accept the change, which I cannot change, and grow with it to ensure that I move with the times. The second belief is the power of prevention. Out of 100 hurtful incidents in one's life, 90 are person-generated and only 10 are nature sent. I do not try to add to the 10. 

Any memorable experiences?
There were many, but one of the most challenging decisions was to ban smoking in prisons. When the ban was announced, the smokers went on a death fast and threatened that I would find them hanging from the beams of the ceiling, the next day. Their threat did not deter me. Having made the decision, I was determined to stick to it and not give in to the prisoners. It took about ten days for things to settle down and smoking has never been allowed in the prison since. I am proud to say that Tihar is the only prison, which does not entertain smoking. 

What advise would you give to women that encounter harassment in the workplace or sexual harassment?
For women staff, I believe the most important thing is to empower themselves, not just as a woman but also as an individual. We need to understand fear, how to confront it and overcome it. You must ask yourself: if I don't accept this treatment, what can happen to me? The thought of “I would get exposed, lose my job”, may be valid, but women cannot stop there. Women must refuse to continue to be victims. Keep the initiative with you and strategize, collect evidence, so that evidence speaks for itself, seek counselling, take guidance and prepare yourself to win your self-esteem. Let me stress how important it is, to seek counselling, so you are not taking everything upon yourself.

Your message to our readers?
The most important thing is that one should be at peace with oneself. Remember, each day brings opportunities for achievement. Through action, we should turn opportunities into achievements, thus bringing fulfillment. Keep your mind clear and do good to everyone you can. Be bold and upright. Stand up for your rights. Begin from wherever you are, keeping progress in mind and intellect. In life, change is the law, growth is optional, choose wisely. If we as human beings get this message in, we will move on and continue to grow and contribute and take better decisions, which will make all the difference in the quality of our lives.

Q u o t e s

“I needed to be in a commanding position and be with the haves, so that I could then help the less fortunate.”

“Policing has the power to correct, the power to do and the power to get things done.”

“It is the brightness of the Indian Police Service that attracted me and that brightness, as I saw it, was the power to correct.

“There was a lot of amazement and doubt. I kept telling myself, 'don't change your mind'. I was going by my swadharm (self religion).

“Normally, prisons are used as dumping grounds for human beings. We turned it around in two years, into a reformatory actually”.

“We advocated using prisons to dry-clean people instead of contaminating them.”

“'Navjyoti' has till now treated over 12,000 drug addicts and is on special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.”

“The right option I practice is to accept the change, which I cannot change, and grow with it to ensure that I move with the times.”

“Women must refuse to continue to be victims.”

“In life, change is the law, growth is optional, choose wisely.”

Some of Dr. Kiran Bedi’s Achievements 

Improvement in condition of women prisoners. 

There is now a holistic approach to women prisoners and child prisoners. Mothers can keep kids born in prison for 5 years, with their schooling and healthcare guaranteed. My organisation “India Vision Foundation” is working with such children and educating them as part of prison reform. The system is there, open to sunshine, it may not be the best, but is now talked about, written about, getting addressed, legally debated, questioned, reported, and even corrected. I believe anything is possible.


Two biographies of Kiran Bedi titled 'I Dare' and ‘The Kindly Baton' have been published. She authored the 'government@net' and has written three books - 'What went wrong', 'As I see' and’ 'It's Always possible' - a book which deals with her unique experiment of transforming the largest prison in the world.

Prison reforms

The transformation that took place in the Tihar prison, began with her mission statement: 'To help prisoners not to return to the prisons'. This was her ultimate desire for prisoners. “She knew that it had to be spiritual education that would bring in the reformation, not punishment. She started with self - awareness and identified education and human as areas, which needed modification. She introduced education programmes by opening a branch of the Indira Gandhi Open University inside the prison and by conducting 'Vipassana Meditation' and getting NGO's to participate in the process. The results were astounding and her mission's statement was met. Her unrelenting perseverance, stubborn determination and her '3C' Model (Corrective, Collective and Community based) ideals enabled her to metamorphasise the Mindsets of prisoners and achieve this Herculean task. 


The Ramon Magsaysay Award-Phillipines.
The Joseph Beuys Foundation Award-Germany.
The Morrison Tom Gitchoff Award-USA. 
Pride of India Award-USA. Woman of the Year Award-Italy.
Police Medal for Gallantry-India. 
Asia Region Award for Drug Prevention and Control-Norway.