She may no longer don khaki, but Kiran Bedi is not resting on the innumerable laurels that came her way during an eventful career in the Indian police force that began in 1972. The contours of that engagement are well documented. It had its share of ah-ha moments – arguably the best known being the time when Bedi got Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s car towed away from a no-parking zone, an action that famously won her the moniker ‘Crane Bedi’!
Life has continued to be eventful even after she sought voluntary retirement from the police service in 2007, partly in protest at having been superseded for the post of Delhi Police Commissioner. In fact, Bedi never looked back, almost immediately plunging into a plethora of activities, ranging from endorsing humanitarian causes to featuring in television shows and advertisements. In fact, her show, Aap Ki Kachehri, which airs on a popular Hindi entertainment channel, is all set to begin its new season soon.
Being a woman, she has always believed, is a huge opportunity. This certainly was the case for her. When she was in Lucknow recently, she revealed that it was her gender that had goaded her to achieve what people thought was impossible to achieve being a woman. The problem though, as she put it, is that women constantly shortchange themselves, “We as women under rate our capacities and our right to do our best. We feel bogged down by talk of corruption, lack of time, lack of money, and so on. You name it and we have an excuse for not doing it!”
What helped Bedi personally was the fact that her father never sought to undermine the confidence of his four daughters. “I come from a traditional Punjabi family. My father always told us four sisters that we should do our best and leave the rest to God. That advice was what gave me the strength to go on, even in the most trying of times. That’s why, when I took charge as Director General of Prisons, in Delhi’s Tihar Jail – India’s largest prison complex – the first question I asked the inmates was whether they sought God’s forgiveness. That question paved the way for many prison reforms including the introduction of vipasana meditation in the prison,” explains Bedi.
Bedi was also always very conscious of the need for police reform. In fact, the organisations she helped set up in 1987 and 1994 – Navjyoti for Welfare and Preventive Policing and India Vision Foundation, respectively – focused on helping those who had suffered at the hands of the police, among other issues like the prevention of drug addiction and child welfare. As she put it, “The wearing of the uniform gives one a false sense of power. The police generally cross the line between humanity and brutality. Police officers must be tough but for that they do not need to use physical force. I joined the police force because I believed that this was the only service that was directly linked to the people and could make a huge and positive difference to the most vulnerable.”
Among the vulnerable, Bedi includes the elderly. The passing of the years has also given her a keen insight into how senior citizens should handle life, “It’s not only me. Today, if anyone of us watches a film or documentary on the neglect of the elderly, we cannot but be moved, because we immediately realise that one day we too will be at that stage of our lives and may face the same situation. That’s why I tell people to start preparing for old age right now.”
She did just that herself, prior to putting in her papers, “To my mind one needs to prepare for this phase at least three years before one actually retires. Where will one stay, what will one do, how will one fill the vacuum and void of an active life in service. Post retirement, every detail needs to be planned out. My advice to those about to retire – especially women – is this: Ask yourself what will happen to you once you are not working.”
Going through such an exercise will also make one more sensitive to the elderly amidst them. Says Bedi, “It is us, when we are young, who are responsible for the way our old age will turn out to be. If we want to neglect and ignore the elderly in our homes, then we must be prepared to see ourselves in the same situation, some decades down the line.”
Bedi also believes that the law against elder abuse needs to be strictly enforced in India, “If the law has made it mandatory for relatives to take the responsibility for caring for the senior citizens in their families, then it must be followed in every state and in every home.” But, at the same time, she recognises that often there is a need for a change of mindsets among senior citizens, “Many senior citizens I meet are not living in the present. Either they are missing the past, or waiting for a better future. In the process, they make their present miserable. They complain and fret and blame their near and dear ones for neglecting them. This is a very sad and unhappy way to live. They should not lose the ability to move on with the times.”
It is Bedi’s father who has provided many of these insights. Today, she credits him for having taught her the valuable lesson of handling life after retirement. She reveals, “I grew up watching my father age and I learnt that if you have a good or a bad trait it gets even more enhanced as you grow older. My father lives with me today and I don’t feel it is a burden unlike most people who have older relatives living with them. Daddy lives a simple life and is a man of few words. Now this trait of his has become even more prominent in his old age. I have to goad him to talk or he just likes to keep quiet enjoying his retirement in blissful silence. He has no demand or expectations and is fit as a fiddle because he lived a holistic life as a young man.”
The policewoman of yesteryear has evolved into the wise woman of today.
By arrangement with WFS
Image from the cover of "I Dare" by Kiren Bedi