Out of the Box Part 12: Of Kiran Bedi’s Battle With Patriarchy

When Kiran Bedi, in her tiff with the Bar Association, refused to say sorry, the counsel fumed at her determination.

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Preface: At a time when there was only one government broadcaster Doordarshan- in a quest to bring real pictures to people, the Living Media created Newstrack which eventually became Aaj Tak TV channel that we see today. Writer Nutan Manmohan was part of Newstrack’s first batch of tv journalists who experimented with ways to do independent television reporting at a time when no precedents existed. This series celebrates the ‘ start up ‘ moments of that journey.

Read the first 11 blogs in her series here:

Out of the Box Part 1: Of Reporting and Romance
Out of the Box Journalism Part 2: Be Alsatians, Not Pomeranians!
Out of the Box Part 3: Entering the ‘Neverland’ of Journalism!
Out of the Box 4: How Crime Coverage Becomes Lottery for the Press
Out of the Box Part 5: Looking for a ‘Barsati, Boyfriend & Beetle’
Out of the Box Part 6: In Journalism, the Devil is in the Details!
Out of the Box Journalism Part 7: The Man Who Would Be King
Out of the Box Part 8: Journalism Without a Prism or Blinkers
Out of the Box Part 9: How Fake News is Harming Journalism
OTB 10: Of ‘Zooni’ and Other Untold Stories of Dimple Kapadia
Out of the Box Part 11: The Officer on Special Duty to the CM

After his triple MA in messy divorces, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan now seems rather weathered down – so few can imagine the sheer hysteria half a billion women in the Indian subcontinent felt when, as a bachelor, fast bowler Imran Khan ran towards them on their television screens.

In fact, he seemed like the perfect bet to prep up our tail-end entertainment slot – except that, in the early 90s, for an Indian journalist to get access to a Pakistani cricket star was akin to landing on Mars. Indira Sikand – a dreamy looking reporter who had just joined – was made the ‘bakra’ and nudged into the deep end of the Pakistan cricket board’s red-tape-cesspool.

Indira not only swam through the permissions thicket, she surfaced with a brilliant debut interview. Indira Sikand and Imran Khan’s conversation – more importantly, their chemistry – was magical to watch.

Indira had spent her teens in Tara Hall School, Shimla, and still carried some of that mountain air in her windblown hair and soft, tinkling voice. A voracious reader, she had already run through entire completed works of John Steinbeck, Alistair Mclean, Ernest Hemingway – and much more. She soon became my go-to person for reading recommendations and she always came up with surprise gems – including African and Chinese authors.

The Lawyers’ Tiff With Kiran Bedi

Forever keen to collaborate with interesting talent, I thought Indira’s perceptive antennae for human emotions would be a great asset to the complex story I was working on. The Bar Association of Tis Hazari Court in Delhi had gone on a flash strike to protest against cop Kiran Bedi – the DCP of that area.

By the time I was given this story, the public fracas had already been simmering for a year and the common litigants were really suffering.

News reporting on the issue projected a picture of a high-handed police officer and I had every intention of editorially lasso-ing the trouble maker. Instead, I came out of the story weeks later with a crash course on the ‘Peepli Live’ reality of log jammed Indian governance and the state of civil servants stuck in the quicksand of public service.

The story was ignited by one incident – the handcuffing of a lawyer who had been accused of petty theft in a college in Delhi University. As per Supreme Court directions, the police was not supposed to handcuff the accused, and hence the constable at Tis Hazari and Kiran Bedi, the DCP of that area, were held responsible by the bar association.

The arrest happened after the students lodged a complaint against the lawyer for stealing a sum of rupees one hundred from a locker. Since the amount was paltry, the constable was given no official transport – he actually took a bus back with the accused.

While the Supreme Court bans the use of handcuffs, handcuffing was not only permitted in police manuals – it was the norm because if a detainee escapes, the constable could be dismissed or even suspended! Should the police manual not have been tweaked, as per SC guidelines? And if not, what choice does a constable have in this scenario except to handcuff the detainee?

Similarly, the choice that DCP Bedi had was either to suspend her constable and escape blame, or stick by her constable. She had chosen the latter.

An Ego Clash and Ingrained Patriarchy

Could this problem have been solved by the involvement of the commissioner of police or the home minister? Yes – they could have announced an amendment to the police manual and explained this gap to the press and people. But no one, it seems, wanted to solve the problem.

Our investigation revealed that the story’s roots went deeper. This, in fact, was also a shadow boxing match between Delhi MP HKL Bhagat and Home Minister Buta Singh.

Bhagat was trying to hit two birds with one sharp stone. By stoking the crisis, Bhagat was fishing for brownie points from the lawyer fraternity as also pulling down his bete noire, Home Minister Buta Singh. The minister, in turn, was letting the sacrificial goat bleed in order to expose Bhagat.

Aji mooch ki ladai hai – ego clash,” said one desperate litigant shaking his head with hopelessness. Even though this ‘vox pop’ had come from an ordinary bystander, Indira highlighted this sentence in deep yellow with a note that said – “theme of this story!” Two political titans were wrestling; if it trampled the ordinary litigant and smashed a couple of public institutions – so be it.

Soon, lawyers were accusing Kiran Bedi of lathi charging them – which she denied. Bedi accused the lawyers of an abusive verbal assault and of trespassing into her workspace – which the lawyers denied. Charges were serious on both sides.

While the case (and my shoot) was dragging on, the counsel for Bar Association – the brilliant criminal lawyer, Bawa Gurcharan Singh – called us to say on record that he would not press charges if Bedi apologised. I wondered – if Bedi had wrongly lathi charged the lawyers, why would Bawa let her off with just an apology?

Bedi replied that she would apologise if she had committed a mistake, but she had not. When I got back to Bawa with Bedi’s response, Bawa fumed on camera, saying – “Won’t say sorry! Ab whaat to do with womaan like that!”

As Indira and I sat previewing the tapes together, I looked at her across the edit table and said, “Yeh bhi mooch ki ladai hai”. Indira smiled back meaningfully and parodied Bawa’s pre-partition Punjabi drawl to say: “Won’t say sorry! Ab whaat to do with womaan like that!” We sighed at the obvious patriarchy.

Indian women are so conditioned to say sorry even if they have not committed a mistake that Bedi indeed must have stood out like a sore thumb.

The Lack of Legal Help

With the ongoing case, I was reluctantly going to file an inconclusive story when I landed an interview with advocate PP Grover who confided on camera that he had been ragged and heckled – no lawyer was being permitted to represent Bedi. Our legal system ensures that a murderer, a dreaded terrorist – even a serial rapist gets legal representation.

But in a ‘mooch ki ladaai’ with a woman officer, she was being compelled to fight her case without legal help! This, for me, was the story’s editorial takeaway as it put a spotlight on a neglected dark patch of Indian society.

This prolonged coverage had sort of ‘paused’ my life. With the closing B-roll planned for early morning on Sunday when Tees Hazari courts are shut – I was hoping to press the ‘resume’ button right after.

It was still dark and cold outside, when I slipped on my husband’s XL- sized hoodie over my knitted T-shirt and dabbed a bit of his Paco Rabban on my wrists, before quietly driving to office on that unusually windy February morning.

As the crew loaded the Maruti Omni with equipment, I mentioned to Indira Sikand, my co-pilot, that although I had gotten married only a couple of months ago – thanks to tight deadlines, I was hardly spending any time with my spouse. “Good! 10 years of marriage will seem like one!” said Indira with a hint of laughter creeping up her eyes.

(Nutan Manmohan has held assignments as Vice President of Star TV, India Bureau Chief Focus Asia, Honk Kong. Her film ‘A Second Hand Life got special mention at ‘Green Wave’ Bulgaria. She is now a freelance filmmaker. Her 26-part Children’s Jasoosi series V3 will release on Facebook this year.

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