A privileged life

  • People
  • Thursday, 26 Dec 2013

Kiran Bedi was unsparing in enforcing discipline on the roads, admonishing errant drivers with a microphone and loud speaker.

KIRAN Bedi knew from young that she was destined to “be somebody”. As a girl, she led a privileged life, not because she grew up in wealth but because her parents gave her wings to fly.

She was born in 1949 in Amritsar, Punjab, at a time when girls in India were groomed to become good wives.

But this was not the path for Bedi and her three sisters. They played tennis in shorts (Bedi was a national tennis champion in her youth), cycled around freely, sported short hair and wore track suits. And they were encouraged by their parents to dream big.

“I am a product of visionary parents. I had opportunities ... rare opportunities that girls didn’t get in the 1950s and 1960s. My father defied his own grandfather ... almost to the point of disinheritance, because he wanted to educate all four of us girls. He worked extra hard so that he could send us to the best school in town which was located far from where we lived. At the time, girls in India had a social script ... girls were to be married off after school. That was their script. But not us. I believe that being born to such visionary parents made me privileged,” she shares.

Bedi joined the police force because she wanted to correct injustice and she knew that she would have that power as a cop.

Being the only woman officer in the police force wasn’t easy, but Bedi rose to the challenge.

“I remember an incident when I was a girl. A poor woman came to my dad asking for his help. Her husband had been picked up by the police and was put in the lock up for something he didn’t do. The lady asked my father if he could help her husband. My father agreed, after ascertaining that her husband was indeed falsely accused. He called up the police superintendent and the next day, the man was free.

“I was fascinated. To me, it was like magic ... that meant that if you were a senior cop, you can arrest but you can also undo injustice. I knew then that I wanted to be a cop as it was the most powerful way I could undo injustice. Cops had the power of change and I wanted to make a difference,” she says.

Of course, being the only woman officer in an all-male police force wasn’t easy. Bedi met with obstacles at every point in her career. She was given the toughest postings to test her strength but Bedi embraced the challenges with gusto. Her training as a tennis champion, she says, prepared her for the gruelling work. In 1975, Bedi became the woman officer to lead the New Delhi police contingent at the Republic day parade, marching some 14 kilometres and leading an all-male parade in front of then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

“The prime minister was thrilled when I passed her and saluted her. I could see her jump up and cheer,” recalls Bedi.

One of her early postings was as the Traffic Commissioner of New Delhi, tasked with organising the traffic planning in the city for the upcoming Asian Games which was to be held in Delhi in 1982.

Anyone who has been to Delhi would realise what a gargantuan task this was. But Bedi was unsparing in enforcing discipline on the roads. She would travel in her police car with a microphone and loudspeaker and publicly admonish drivers who were breaking road rules. She had cranes all around the city to remove vehicles that were illegally parked, lending her the monicker, Crane Bedi.

One such vehicle belonged to then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi!

“I protected the officer who towed away her car because to me, laws were above positions and status. This was the first time in India the Prime Minister of India was given a parking ticket and it went on throughout my career ... from one VIP to another. I have had a lot of brickbats for that but to me, those were not brickbats. They were rewards for what I stood for,” she says.

Charting her path

Bedi married tennis player Brij Bedi in 1972, just before she joined the police force and the couple had a daughter, Sania, in 1975.

Though much of her time and energy were devoted to her career, Bedi says her home life didn’t suffer for it. “I don’t think I paid a price. Women don’t have to pay a price to succeed. It is about budgeting time and managing energy. I managed my time and energy well. There were things that I could delegate to others and there were things I absolutely had to do myself. I would not do things which I could pay others to do. Like housework. I have never cooked and cleaned in my life. Is that a price? No ... if I could pay someone to do that, it freed me to do other things. If I could pay someone to drive me, I could read while I was in the car. My husband knew this right from the start and it was never an issue. We were always equals with no expectations.

“Of course, when it came to passing on love and care and hugs to my child, I would do it myself because only I could do it. I think it’s the way we are scripted,” she says simply.

Bedi believes that men and women do not have separate roles just by virtue of their gender.

“There are no different roles but women and men do approach things differently. Roles depend on one’s capabilities and inclinations. There is nothing superior or inferior about any role. If you love being a homemaker and you love putting your all into your home, then do that. Enjoy your life. That’s great. But don’t be a misfit. I would be a misfit as a homemaker. Give me an 18-hour day at the office and I love it. That’s my inclination. That’s the way I am. Choose your inclination and be happy with it,” she says.

Though she’s retired from the police force, Bedi has in no way slowed down. She is active in the two non-governmental organisations she founded: the Navjyoti India Foundation (which started as a rehabilitation initiative for drug addicts which has expand its scope to literacy and women empowerment programmes) and the India Vision Foundation which runs prison reform and rural and community development programmes.

Bedi is also an active campaigner with India Against Corruption, a movement led by Indian social activist Anna Hazare for a less corrupt India.

“My dream is to always be of value to others,” says Bedi. – By S. Indramalar

Related story:

Woman in charge

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A privileged life


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