By Tanvi Girotra

I recently had the immense privilege of sharing a TED platform with one of the most respected and celebrated police officers anywhere in the world and a woman who inspires millions like her everyday to break out of the mould created for them by society.

Dr. Kiran Bedi has been India’s first and highest ranking {woman} officer who has been committed to the cause of innovative and reformative policing and prison management for the past 35 years.

Initially there was a lot of discussion amongst the crowd as she had planned on talking about the Janlok Pal Bill and how it affects the country. But instead, being the last speaker she boldly got up and said “All of you have inspired me. All those wanting something on the Lok Pal, here’s my pen drive. I want to talk about something else today.”
At first I was intrigued and very much fascinated by how tiny and simple she looked on the huge 2500 sq meter stage with fountains and lights playing at the back. But as soon as she started speaking, my mind was way too occupied to be thinking about anything else.

The theme of the TED event being ‘Eureka’ meaning that one moment in life when you know why you exist and what you are meant to do. I had ranted on for 18 minutes previously about how I had not yet experienced it and was nowhere near doing so either. But Dr. Kiran Bedi very passionately started her speech by saying ‘Every moment in the Police Force is a Eureka moment for me. Even if I had all the money in the world, I would still be doing what I do. I would still be the person that I am.’

Recounting her days of service, she claimed that she liked to do things differently. She believed in using her position not to punish, but to reform. She implemented thousands of innovative and welfare oriented ways of policing through the course of her career. Because of this she also pissed off a lot of people and so they decided to do something about this tiny woman out to change the way the police force is perceived. They decided to ‘fix her’ by posting her at the Tihar Jail – a place dreaded and feared by the bravest and bulkiest men in the police force. They hoped this would disillusion her enough but the complete opposite happened. ‘I saw a prison full of 10,000 criminals and an almost soul less and criminalised police staff – all screaming for redemption and reform. And I knew I was at the right place.’

Sharing stories of various hardships she had to face being a woman in a man’s world, she shared a story about the first time she interacted with the inmates and how it changed her life forever.

‘No other officer on duty had ever set foot inside those iron gates’, she started. So more than being shocked by her appearance, they were taken aback by the fact that she was physically present there instead of lazing around in the office like her predecessors.
“As I entered I found all the men and women inside staring at me with blank expressions. They didn’t know whether to wish me or continue staring. My mind was racing with ideas about how I could kill this tension and make them accept me. So I went up to one of the inmates and asked him this one simple thing – Aap prarthna karte hain? Do you pray? Amidst all the bewilderment and sheer state of confusion, some still angry with the world shook their head while some who had a little hope left inside them nodded. ‘Toh chalo mil kar prarthna karte hain. Let’s all pray together.’ Not used to being treated this way, they all came together, closed their eyes and started chanting Itni shakti humein dena data mann ka vishvas kamzor ho na. Hum chalein nek raste pe hum se bhool kar bhi koi bhool ho na’.”

As soon as they finished and started to open their eyes, everyone’s expression changed. There was an immediate sense of acceptance amongst all the inmates. A simple prayer had sparked the first feeling of goodness amongst these people charged for unforgiven crimes like rape and murder.

This was the first of many such reformation programs and workshops that have gone down in history as probably the most effective technique with prisoners all over the world. She went on to mention that one such ten day workshop was attended by a total of 1000 prisoners. ‘Sachin might have his centuries, I have my 1000 record.’ she exclaimed.

Her dynamism and vision for a safer, better India was truly electrifying and inspiring. I don’t know what I might end up doing in life but if I am ever lucky enough to become even half as good a speaker as her, I am going to consider myself successful. She is a blatant example of the fact that if women respect themselves and recognise their capabilities, they can end up leading even a man’s world.

Photo courtesy: TEDx Sinhagad {http://www.tedxsinhagad.com/}