1994-07-19 00:00:00

Congratulatory messages flooded New Delhi´s Tihar Jail after the Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Foundation announced that it would honor Kiran Bedi with the 1994 Magsaysay award for government service.

The inspector general of India´s largest prison won the award for "controlling crime, enhancing the image of law enforcement and improving prison conditions," the foundation said.

Bedi told UCA News July 13 that she was chosen for giving prisoners hope and love. "The pitiable jail life has transformed my outlook as a police officer. I am happy that I have changed the squalid prison conditions," she said.

Bedi insisted the "true victory" was not hers. "It is the victory of the prisoners, who cooperated with me in reforming jail conditions," she stressed. "The victory is not the prize, it is the prisoners´ happiness."

Tihar inmates sang and danced when the award was announced July 11.

Indian Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao said the country´s top woman police official brought glory to the country´s women by winning the Magsaysay prize.

After she took over as inspector general of New Delhi´s Tihar Jail in May 1993, Bedi introduced reforms in the country´s largest prison, which houses more than 8,000 prisoners though it has capacity for only 2,500.

She renamed the jail Tihar Ashram (monastery) and started meditation and yoga classes for both prisoners and police officers. She also introduced vocational courses for prisoners.

Bedi was credited with systematically applying courage and determination in upgrading and implementing police functions and penal rehabilitation.

A former Asian women´s lawn tennis champion, Bedi previously championed other causes of the less-privileged in society.

Now 45, she became the first woman to enter the Indian Police Service after her graduation from the police academy in 1974.

She rose rapidly in the ranks, winning national acclaim and a presidential award in 1978 for driving off a band of club-and-sword-wielding demonstrators with her police baton.

As deputy commissioner of police in Delhi´s West and North districts, Bedi made police accessible to citizens and even rallied criminal elements of the community through livelihood projects.

She established women´s peace committees to promote neighborhood harmony and arranged loans and assistance for beggars.

She also initiated community-supported detoxification clinics for drug dependents, expanding them as deputy director of the Narcotics Control Bureau.

When she took over Tihar, India´s largest prison complex, last year, she instituted a regimen of work, study and play for its 8,000 prisoners.

Illiterate prisoners learned to read and write and even progress to college. Some learned skills, while most were encouraged to share responsibility for community discipline and other interaction.

Commentator Ajoy Bose described the award as granting "recognition to Bedi´s indomitable crusading zeal."

"Bedi has dramatically changed the image of Tihar Jail as a den of vice to that of a unique reform institution. She gave new meaning to life behind bars," he wrote in The Pioneer newspaper July 13.

Federal Home Minister S.B. Chavan said the award honors India´s "entire security forces."

Maxwell Pereira, Bedi´s colleague and New Delhi´s crime branch chief, also said her achievement is a model for police officers.

Pereira told UCA News July 13 that Bedi "proved police can make prisoners better human beings. She taught the prisoners that life has meaning despite their pitiable surroundings."

The Magsaysay citation said "no social relationship in Asia is more fraught with ambiguity than that between police and people. For to many people, police are not a positive good, only a necessary evil."

Bedi´s jail reforms changed the public outlook toward prisoners, it said.


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