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Kiran Bedi receives a donation from Pranav Manoharan, 9, at a ceremony yesterday in Dubai, where she announced the launch of the global arm of her Navjyoti India Foundation.
Kiran Bedi receives a donation from Pranav Manoharan, 9, at a ceremony yesterday in Dubai, where she announced the launch of the global arm of her Navjyoti India Foundation.

Top ex-policewoman campaigns for free education in India

Kiran Bedi retired from law enforcement three years ago to campaig to make access to basic education in India universal.

DUBAI // India's first and highest-ranking female police officer has appealed to her countrymen here to help millions of children go to school.

Kiran Bedi, who retired from law enforcement three years ago and has become a social activist and education reformer, said her goal was free, high-quality education for every Indian child. "It must be done now and it must be done in lightning speed," said Ms Bedi. The 61-year-old trailblazer was in Dubai to announce the launch of the global arm of her Navjyoti India Foundation, a non-governmental organisation devoted to educational sponsorship programmes.

The foundation provides educational support to pupils in India and assistance to families to ensure their children can enrol in school. Individuals can sponsor the education of a child for a year by paying 6,000 Indian rupees (Dh500) to the organisation. The funds are used to provide, among other things, library facilities, basic health care and food, and to teach skills such as computer literacy.

The foundation currently funds the education of about 5,000 children, most of whom live in slums. "I am here to encourage non-resident Indians to help in opening schools in India, in educating children," said Ms Bedi at the Manhattan Hotel in Bur Dubai. "They do it themselves or help credible NGOs to do it. Every child in India has a right to go to school and they are all waiting to go." After a series of presentations about her foundation in Dubai yesterday, Indian expatriates who attended pledged enough money to send more than 4,000 children to school for a year.

"This shows that people in Dubai want to help but they did not know how they could," said Mandeep Singh, a volunteer with Navjyoti based in Dubai. "Everyone trusts Kiran Bedi and that is why they are committed to her." Ms Bedi joined the police service in 1972, retiring in 2007. She shot to fame for the reforms she introduced in Tihar Jail, one of the most notorious correctional facilities in the country, and was one of the first to introduce an education system into prisons where inmates learnt from and taught each other.

In March, a survey published in Reader's Digest rated her as the most trusted woman in the country. This trust, she said yesterday, should encourage people to invest in her campaign. "Please don't join this organisation if you do not trust me," she said. "If you do, then give it your all. "I am not here to take, but I am here to give. Many Indian expatriates are looking for opportunities to donate their money in a place they can trust. They are looking for a temple and I have come to them with this temple."

Ms Bedi said her "thirst for education" has been a cornerstone of her life. According to Unesco, a UN educational body, there are an estimated eight million Indian children and young people between the ages of six to 14 who are out of school, the majority of them being girls. Earlier this year, India passed an act that enforced compulsory free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of six and 14 years.

"It came after 60 years," she said of the legislation. "No wonder one-third in India are still illiterate. But it is here now. Now a child can take the government to court and question why they were not provided a school near their home." Indians in Dubai who came to hear Ms Bedi speak welcomed her efforts. "When it is Kiran Bedi, we know that there will be no corruption," said Majal Desai, 37, a sales officer in Dubai. "She has fought against corruption all her life. Education is a serious requirement for the progress of India and I am happy someone has taken up the cause."

Ms Bedi is scheduled to speak in Abu Dhabi today before heading to Muscat. @Email:pmenon@thenational.ae

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