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Policewoman to Peacekeeper

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February 2005
Policewoman to Peacekeeper

Dr. KIRAN BEDI, India's Top Cop, Turns Challenges Into Opportunities.

By DEEPA AGARWAL

"The real difference is the mindset and the unlimited opportunities that are available to all of us. It's applying the key ingredients, persistence, hard work and most of all perseverance." - Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

"Could you please just close your eyes for a while and observe your breath as it comes and goes?" she said to the people who had come to hear her talk. "Feel the peace and calmness come back to you."

So, you think this is a yoga or pranayaam session in progress, right? Well, you would be mistaken. It was actually Dr. Kiran Bedi, Police Advisor, United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, and former Inspector General of Police and Prisons in India, addressing listeners during her public reception in Atlanta on January 21st.

Not that Dr. Bedi intended to give a session on yoga and meditation that day. True to her style, she was just responding "hands on" to an unforeseen obstacle that had arisen while she was there. At the last minute, when the projector being used to air a film on her life and issues of prisoner reform stopped working, Dr. Bedi immediately took charge and salvaged the situation with a real-life session of Vipassana yoga ? yoga that had changed the lives of thousands of inmates in the infamous Tihar jail. So much so that most people in the audience were actually glad that the projector had broken down!

And that is what Dr. Bedi is best at: turning around challenging situations into opportunities. It's her sheer determination and perseverance that helped her surmount the considerable obstacles in her path during her posting at Tihar.

With a twinkle in her eye she says, "You know, when I was small, I used to run the obstacle race. I was well trained to run that race; and the trick is to never look at the obstacles. I would keep my sight on the victory cup, waiting for me at the other end, and I would win."

And boy, did she win! Having already received the Police Medal for Gallantry and the Asia Region Award for Work in Prevention of Drug Abuse, she was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award, also known as the Asian Nobel Prize, in 1994. She received the Swiss-German Joseph Beuys Award for Holistic and Innovative Management in 1997. The Western Society of Criminology in the U.S. presented her the 2001 Morrison Tom Gitchoff Award for actions that have significantly improved the quality of justice in India, and the Blue Drop Group Management, Italy, presented her the "Woman of the Year" award in 2002.

Reminscing, Dr. Bedi says, "It's nice to get awards. They are an acknowledgement of your good work. But essentially it means that you need to keep doing the work." To keep the work going, she founded the India Vision Foundation in 1994. The foundation works primarily in the areas of prisoner reforms, education of prisoners' children and drug abuse prevention.

Always the action-oriented outdoor girl keen for a visible change, policing was a natural choice for Dr. Bedi. Being a woman was never a deterrent. The first female police officer of India, Dr. Bedi actually came into the limelight when she transformed ? or rather resurrected ? the Tihar prison from a "hellhole" to a reformatory. Extremely disturbed by what she saw and unable to walk away without doing something constructive for the 9,700 forgotten lives in Tihar, she introduced meditation and educational programs and created a top-notch system of prison management.

"Well, I was IGP for a reformation center, not for a human godown (warehouse). It has been proven that given the right kind of opportunities and environment, people evolve and change for the better. And I believed that the inmates at Tihar deserved that opportunity. It was more important for me that the prisoners didn't return when they left Tihar than making sure that they didn't run away from Tihar," she asserted.

The crowning glory of Dr. Bedi's career, however, was her appointment by the United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, as the Police Advisor for UN's Peacekeeping Operations in January 2003. During her time at the United Nations, Dr. Bedi has played a crucial role in several conflict-torn countries, including Liberia, Haiti, Congo, Ivory Coast, Burundi and most recently Sudan.

"The beginning stage of any peacekeeping operation is the most challenging because you are actually flying into a conflict when emotions are still charged," she reflects. "This is completely different from what I have done so far. In the Indian Police Department, you plan and work for your unit or city. But in the UN, you are actually planning for a specific country or sometimes many countries at the same time. These are countries that have been ravaged by internal conflicts/civil wars. We essentially assess, plan and lay the foundation of a new system of policing. The other difference, and a major one at that, is that when you are in the police force, you respond instantly to a given situation. United Nations, on the other hand, is all about consensus of the international community. It is about responding diplomatically, keeping in mind international laws and sovereignties of countries."

Indeed, Dr. Bedi's confidence and attitude towards life, as she herself admits, has been ingrained in her by her supportive and loving parents. Her home according to her was a complete world of positive energy and enthusiasm, where she was always encouraged to live her dreams ? dreams to develop and be prepared for any challenges in life.

In mid-February 2005, Dr. Bedi intends moving back to New Delhi and operating from there. "My work with the police force in India awaits me. Indian Police Service is my passion. It is one of the finest services to be in. A service which reaches out to millions of people," she affirms.


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