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<<Profile Main
Kiran Bedi: In the Spirit of Doing
Indiaís celebrated top cop speaks about a career that became a cause. 
BY SEEMA HARIHARAN
I
Dr Kiran Bedi with GIACC's Ani Agnihotri. Photo by Apurva Mody.
She sat in a corner of the banquet hall at Palace restaurant earnestly answering questions posed to her. Attired in a dark blue pant suit, a green scarf embraced her neck as it simultaneously drew attention to her trademark short hair. It was not hard to overlook this 5 foot 2 inch tall figure. However, her personality was a force to reckon with. She was none other than the extraordinaire Dr. Kiran Bedi; the first woman to join the Indian Police Service in 1972; winner of the Ramon Magsaysay award in 1994; and now Civilian Police Adviser in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. 

The public reception in her honor was organized by the India Vision Foundation Ė USA, with support from the Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (GIACC) and the Asian Studies Department of Emory University.

ďTime is never brought off the street, it has to be given.Ē ďSome professions start out as careers then become a cause.Ē These are but two of the many awe-inspiring statements made by Dr. Bedi to an eager audience who seemed to dwell on every word that came out of her mouth. And when the words poured out, it was memorable and unforgettable.

On introducing meditation techniques to the prisoners at Tihar jail:
Before you ask me questions, Iíll ask you a few questions. Close your eyes for a while and observe your breath as it comes and goes. What happened while you were watching? Did it [mind] go into the past? Did you recall from the past? Did it run into the future? Thatís what the mind is. It never stays in the present. Itís either going back or going forward. Forward is future anxieties and insecurities and past is memories of joys and sorrows. The mind never remains in the present and when the mind does not remain in the present, there is no control. And when the mind remains in the present you are in command, you can be in command. But when the mind goes back and forth you are a slave to this mind, because you are losing yourself to tragedies or ecstasies of the past or insecurities of the future. [This is the message of meditation.] Meditation teaches you to be aware of here and now. Iím not a teacher; Iím not a preacher. Iím only sharing experiences that I have dealt with. This was the message to the prisoners: you are here and now, and what will you do now? And that was the time that the reform began. The meditation program helped them to put aside their past and work towards their future without being anxious about it.

On her first day at Tihar jail:
The message had gone [to the prisoners]. There were about 9,700 of them. And the first day I didnít go in my police uniform. I went in a salwaar kurta with a jacket like this (she tugs on her jacket). I didnít wear the uniform deliberately, for the reason that I didnít want to scare them. I didnít want to scare the prisoners; I wanted to coax them because they were my clients. Prisoners were my clients who happen to be terrorists, rapists, all kinds; but I could not hate them. And the only way was to not scare them away. I went in my pajama suit; no cosmetics - nothing. I stepped into the prison and there were a large number of prisoners who were going to go to court. That was my first encounter with so many prisoners. As I approached them, they stepped back. I moved up a little and they moved back. And then I realized that the guards who were standing behind me were scaring them to stay away, because never had an inspector general of a prison gone so close to the prisoners. As I stepped further, I asked them [the guards] to stay. And as I moved further I did not know what to do, what to say; how to open myself. What am I here for? Some of them looked at my eyes, some of them didnít. And then I just said: Can I ask you, do you pray? None of them answered. And then again I asked, do you pray? Then some of them said yes, some said no. Then I said would you pray and they said yes. Then we all joined our hands and sang that prayer: Ďaye ma tere bande hai hum.í After we sang I found that peace came into them and then there were smiles. What happened was trust Ė I trust you, you trust me. And when I went from the men to the women, they said madam we were waiting for you. And when I entered there were dholaks. I was one of them. And one of the first things I did was introduce a yoga teacher and an educator. What I am saying is not that I did it, but unfortunately it didnít exist anywhere in the world.

On what motivated her to reform the prison:
I basically believe in the spirit of doing; a spirit of giving. There was no plan. But what was in my mind was what am I here for. Am I here to do head counting? My job was to keep things secure. But I also had everybodyís 24 hours, and what do I do with that, so thatís what I looked at. 

On the hurdles she has encountered with her project, the India Vision Foundation:
You know when I was small I used to run in the obstacle race. I looked at the end, the trophy and I used to get it. I never focus on the obstacles; I focus on what lies at the end of it. Sometimes obstacles can become mountains, but I knew they were surmountable. Let me give you an example. When I took over the prison system, prisoners didnít have newspapers or books and books are critical for any stage. One of my prison staff came and told me that books are not allowed in the prison according to the manual. And books are not allowed in prisons, even today there are many prisons that do not allow books. So he said, madam you are allowing a prohibited item in the prison. I said you are right, but you are half right. He was quite surprised. The one thing sensible I did was I read my prison manual very carefully. So I opened the book and I told him to read the whole sentence. He had himself not read the full sentence. It was written that the following items are prohibited like books, transistors, wrist watches, etc unless permitted. 

Of all her accomplishments, the one thing she wants to be remembered for:
Somebody who was a lovely daughter to her mom.

The way she defines herself in one sentence:
One who loved doing what she did.

The one woman she admires the most:
Nobody other than my mom.

And if she were to re-live her life what would she do different, if anything:
Iíd learn Sanskrit in school.

If she were to meet God, she would want him to tell her:
You could have done better.

Archives:

July 16th: TETE-A-TETE WITH THE FLAVORS TEAM

July 1st: DR SUJATHA REDDY: THE HEALTH FAIR MISSIONARY

July 16th: GIRIRAJ RAO- GANDHI ON HIS MIND

 

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