Indien: Kiran Bedi

The dark labyrinths of India's prison system would never have been exposed to sunlight had Kiran Bedi not exercised her humaneness and her unique approach to rehabilitation.

— Kiran Bedi

Kiran Bedi (born 1949) is India's best-known woman police officer. In a ferociously male bastion, Kiran, with her firm footing, has been using the police service as a medium for social change. She sees prisons and jails as an opportunity to bring criminals back to society's fold, reversing the dehumanization for which prisons are known. She began meditation classes and education and vocational training programs for prison inmates and put in place an unprecedented democratic panchayat system in prisons.

Kiran Bedi, one of India's best-known female cops, is exemplary for using the much-demonized police service as a vehicle for social change. This was not an easy thing to do. Over the years, Kiran has built a rock-solid reputation for being entirely intolerant of dishonesty and favoritism. While supporting and protecting junior officers from the claw of politics, she ensures their accountability both to herself and to the public. Her approach to people who commit crimes is constructive rather than punitive. Her open-door policy and belief in transparency have helped change the dynamics of official accountability in India. Kiran envisions prisons as an opportunity to bring criminals back into the societal fold. When she took over as inspector of general prisons in New Delhi in 1993, she began literacy and education programs for prison inmates; she set up a system whereby prisoners could receive vocational training and work to earn wages; she also set up a panchayat system, where inmates could meet every evening with senior officials to sort out their problems. What won her national and international acclaim were the Yogic Vipassana meditation classes for prisoners. But her incorruptible inflexibility took its toll - she was not allowed to last long in any assignment. This vested victimization she took in stride, continuing to live by her own stringent standards. Kiran and her work have become a benchmark in the nascent imprisonment-and-rehabilitation process in the country. Hers is the voice of the incarcerated and the forgotten in India's gargantuan and Byzantine prison system.