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Beyond the Award: Things That Changed in the Indian Police Force in 1994

Aug 14, 2023
10 min read

1994 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, India

“Twenty-two years ago, when I decided to join the elite Indian Police Service, I saw in it a great potential for the “power to do,” the “power to get things done,” and the “power to correct.” I do firmly believe that the police in any country can be the greatest protector of human rights and the rule of law—as it can as well be the greatest violator of both.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award has done a couple of magical things in my case, as it has in others. It has recognized:

1. The Power to Prevent
Crime prevention is usually given a lower priority and underestimated as an area of policing. What gets priority and headlines are detections and seizures, not prevention of delinquency and breach of peace, which have all the potential of violent crime.

2. The Power of Policing the People
“Policing is for the people,” therefore people must be made partners in policing. Once that is done in a variety of ways, it provides transparency and accountability to the whole system. Resources that cannot alone come from the police could come from participative policing.

3. The Power of the Team
Leaders of the police or government, if they want results, need to form teams, and allow them the initiative, delegation, support, noninterference, and training, with total emphasis on professional integrity. While personal example is crucial, sharing achievements will lead to more results. This will lead to not only “keeping security” but “creating security.”

The Award has propelled me to consolidate and expand my work. For this, I have registered a trust called India Vision. I am breathing life into it at this moment. It will carry forward projects in the fields of prison reform, drug abuse prevention, empowerment of women, mental disability, and sports promotion. I seek your greater support in these projects.

I accept the Ramon Magsaysay Award with total gratitude to the Foundation and the Philippines, on behalf of my team comprising Police-Prison-People and my family from India.”

I wrote this speech on the eve of the presentation of the Ramon Magsaysay Award. I could not write it earlier as the idea has not really sunk into me yet. But then after a very heartening day of seeing faces greeting me with gratitude, the outpouring happened. I wrote about the ‘power of prevention’ getting recognized which was practiced in the police force or prison management through daily nutrition, education, care, communication, collaboration, ethical therapy, and service to others.

The Award recognized for the first time the practice that I do as a law enforcer when policing or prison work was not for punishment but for transformation. When I was informed that I was elected to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1994, people from the law enforcement department of that day did not know how to respond. They were torn between celebrating or remaining silent. They chose the latter.

bedi action photo 1-5-0-993-723-1692169160.jpg

Kiran Bedi receiving the medallion and certificate during the 36th Ramon Magsaysay Awards Presentation Ceremonies held on August 31, 1994. In photo are Fidel V. Ramos, President of the Philippines (center) and Deogracias N. Vistan, Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation Chairman (right).

The law enforcement focuses more on punitive aspects which are also known as ‘welfare policing’. And it gets rewarded for that alone as there are no measurements to assess prevention.

That is why receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award is one of the best things that happened in the Indian police force as it recognized our practice as real and of immeasurable importance. It made everyone pause and observe what we do. Eventually, prevention practices entered the police training schools and became a subject of potential value.

Receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award changed the scenario nationwide. There has been no looking back since then. The Human Rights Commission found an ally. They thought prevention was better than cure through internal reforms, welfare, and effective policing. Thus, it led to the rewriting of India’s laws to frame new policies and training programs.

I thank the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for having recognized this. My career can be divided into two parts…before and after receiving the Award. I look forward to converting all of these into a biopic for the world to see and have it released in Manila in the same hall where I was awarded.

Only this time my mother and my sister would not be there to witness it…as they did in August 1994.

In 1994, KIRAN BEDI was elected to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award for “building confidence in India’s police through dynamic leadership and effective innovations in crime control, drug rehabilitation, and humane prison reform.”