Making jawans do menial duties demeans them and adds to their stress, writes Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.
Growing up in Roorkee, a small town that got its fame from a variety of reasons including the university – now an IIT – where I lived with my parents and for being the headquarter of the Bengal Sappers, we lived in a state of deprivation.
My mother grudged the endless supply of loyal, able-bodied men that friends in the cantonment, wives of army officers had, to assist in all the domestic chores.
These included sweeping, mopping, and chopping vegetables to cleaning the cars and maintaining the sprawling lawns of British-era bungalows.
She felt discriminated because she did not have elaborate help to manage home and was dependent on the lone peon my professor father was allotted. He devoted a few hours every day, attending to tasks my mother assigned him.
Though not part of his line of duty, he nonetheless attended to these because that was the norm – every faculty member and administrator had access to peons, either exclusively or collectively, depending on seniority.
As children, not old enough to cycle down to school, we went piled in rickshaws. In contrast, friends whose dads were in the army were driven on bicycles by a designated orderly or batman.
Grievance Redressal System
Little has changed in the past fifty years since my first exposure to the system of well-placed persons being provided personal servants at public expense.
The sadder part, however, is that instead of feeling repentant at the gross exploitation of colleagues, albeit junior, those who run the system have hit back by levelling allegations against those who provide the first line of defence and even questioned their motives and painted them as men with dishonourable pasts.
Regrettably, this has come right from the top, from the man who recently assumed charge as the new Chief of Army Staff. General Bipin Rawat has defended the sahayak system and expressed displeasure at grievances being voiced in public.
The moot point is that soldiers will use other means – mainly the omnipresent social media which is easily accessible – when an official and compassionate redressal mechanism is either non-existent or not efficient enough. As the army chief’s decision to establish a structured mechanism to voice complaints shows, his step couldn’t have come a day later.
Debate About ‘Sahayak’ System
There are special needs of the army and other defence and paramilitary forces. Besides soldiers per se, forces require a variety of other personnel – cooks, waiters, masalchis (scullions) or those who wash dishes, and cleaners or sweepers. These jobs are clearly of civilian nature but for security and logistical reasons, recruits cannot be hired from the civilian population on a temporary or contractual basis.
The sahayak is not a listed trade in the services. But young combatants are assigned this task for some years. And they perform tasks assigned by the officers and their family members dutifully out of fear that refusal would prevent being assigned combat duties in future.
The primary reason for justifying the sahayak system during peace time is that the officers will not be able reach anywhere on time if they had no assistance for getting their uniform ready.
While this argument is ridiculous, the added problem is that once the sahayak is assigned to an officer, nothing prevents the officer’s wife from loading him with domestic chores. The power structure of the army does not allow him to complain. As some soldiers who have uploaded videos say, no one joins the forces to take the officers’ dogs for walks, to go shopping for the lady of the house or to take the baba to school!
House Panel Against the Practice
In March 2010, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence examined the practice of using jawans as sahayaks. It noted that the practice “prevalent in the army in one form or other since British days” was continuing and they were forced to attend to serve family members of the officers.
Though “the army categorically deposed before the Committee that the jawans are not technically supposed to attend to the household duties at the residence of the officers”, the practice continues unabated.
The Committee commented that this was a “shameful practice which should have no place in independent India” and that it expected the government to “issue instructions to stop the practice forthwith, as this lowers the self-esteem of jawan”.
“Any officer found to be violating the instruction in this regard should be dealt with severely,” the panel added. In its Action Taken Report, the government, while stating that the system would continue, pledged that “sahayaks will not be employed for menial household work”.
Can’t Overlook Unfair Practices
The primary angst, as revealed in the uploaded videos, demonstrates that employing combatants in menial duties demeans them and adds to the stress and lowers their self-esteem as a consequence of humiliation. In recent days, there have been several instances of suicides by the personnel of the paramilitary forces and jawans. The CRPF accounts for almost 40 percent of the suicides that occur in the paramilitary forces.
Instead of brushing the instances of unfair practices beneath the carpet and penalising those at the bottom of the hierarchy, this episode should be converted into an opportunity to examine several issues that plague our defence forces.
Concerns ranging from extended work hours, poor working and living conditions, inadequate uniforms, equipment and ammunition to the absence of legal rights that worry combatants need systemic and sensitive examination.
The government has invested a significant amount of its political credibility by appointing General Rawat after superceding fellow officers. He must demonstrate brilliance not just on the battlefields but also off it. What better arena can he get than the cantonments and outposts?
The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. His most recent books are ‘Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached @NilanjanUdwin. Source: www.thequint.com.
NEW DELHI: Days after an Army jawan posted a video on social media questioning the 'sahayak' (orderly) system, the Army clarified on Monday that the soldier had refused food since January 14 and was shifted to hospital for showing "aggressive behaviour".
An Army spokesman said the soldier, Lance Naik Yagya Pratap, was shifted to Bareilly Military Hospital on Monday to monitor his vital parameters as requisite medical facilities did not exist in Fatehgarh.
"Lance Naik Yagya Pratap is currently posted to Rajput Regimental Centre since December 21, 2016. The individual since January 14 had abstained from food and was showing aggressive behaviour," the spokesman said.
He said Pratap had spoken to his wife on Monday and is "free to use mobile (phone)". "Rajput Regimental Centre has reached out to the wife ... asking her to reach Bareilly Military Hospital so as to confirm welfare of her husband. Army authorities have made arrangements for her stay and interaction with her husband," he said.
In the video posted on social media, Pratap had alleged that certain officers were abusing the Army's sahayak (orderly) system to force their subordinates to "wash clothes, polish boots and walk dogs".
In his address on the occasion of Army Day, Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat warned soldiers against posting such videos on social media, saying these could invite punishment from the authorities.
NEW DELHI: Following the posting of videos in the social media by two BSF, CRPF jawans and an army Lance Naik alleging lack of welfare measures and abuse, the Indian Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat here today said that a new grievance redressal mechanism has been set up wherein his troops can reach him directly to voice their concerns.
Lance Naik Yagya Pratap Singh, who worked as a sahayak, has alleged in his video that he was made to polish shoes. The army on the other hand asserts that the sahayak or ‘buddy system’, meaning pairing of two soldiers, has been established to ensure better synergy during operations and constant communication during peacetime for addressing each other’s grievances.
“The orders for setting up the Chief of Army Staff suggestions cum grievances box was issued today by the army headquarters. We will follow suite with such boxes at the command headquarters and lower levels,” said the Army Chief.
The reason he gave to setting up this new mechanism is, “It is important for me to get a feel of the soldiers as to what conditions they operate in. It is a way to ensure that the efficiency and the health of the army are at the highest levels. So want to ensure that the ranks and files have confidence in the senior leadership.”
He explained that a soldier of any rank can use this mechanism so that his grievances can reach directly to the top.
“We would like to highlight that a soldier should address his grievance with his name and his identity will not be revealed. We would like people to come to us, rather than resort to social media or other means. Let troops have confidence in the senior leadership that their grievances will be addressed and they will get appropriate responses. If they are still dissatisfied they can use other means,” said Gen Rawat.
He asserted that the social media is a two sided weapon. “It can be used effectively, but be detrimental as well,” he said.
Gen Rawat explained that yesterday on social media a jawan from the Rajput Regiment, Lance Naik Yagya Pratap Singh voiced his grievance that he didn’t like the duties performed by a sahayak. The term sahayak means ‘buddy’ related to the ‘buddy system’ which in army parlance means pairing of two soldiers during operations and peace-time postings. It is a system which ensures that the two take care of each other during war and peace.
“The concept behind this system is when going for an operation, while one soldier moves the other will fire in support. Every army officer has a buddy who is a sahayak. He takes care of the officer and the officer takes care of the buddy. The same buddy handles the radio set. In peace stations, a buddy helps an officer with his daily duties such as waking him up for PT (physical training),” he said.
Gen Rawat said Singh has never been a buddy and his trade is a driver. “All that he should have done is talk to a senior officer and come out with his grievances, but the manner in which he came out and spoke of it is not a just method,” said the army chief.
A video went viral on social media yesterday which showed Singh alleging "abuse" by his senior officers who threatened him that he would lose his job if he did not follow their orders which included polishing their shoes.
Gen Rawat, however, said currently there is no breakdown of communication at the lower level. “But if jawans feel their grievances not addressed then we will bring better mechanisms,”he said, asserting that the buddy system has been established to ensure constant communication between soldiers paired with each other and it should remain
The issue of the buddy or sahayak system has been raised with Parliament. The army is looking at having different parameters for field and peace.
Defending the system, he said, “What we recommend is if there is a need to do away with the buddy system, then there is a need for it in the field and during peace locations can have civilians instead. But when the army mobilises for war, then one needs to pick up a buddy whom one knows. So it is good to have a buddy acquainted with you.”
NEW DELHI: Two days after a jawan posted a video critical of the Army+ on social media, Army chief general Bipin Rawat+ said if army personnel don't use "proper, specified channels" to air their grievances they will be liable to be punished.
"Proper channels are in place for jawans to put across their grievances...if they aren't satisfied with action taken, they can contact me directly," General Rawat during an address on Army Day today.
"You will be found guilty for any action you take outside these channels and will also be liable for punishment," the General said.
General Rawat first talked about the grievances issue on Friday, after a jawan, Lance Naik Yagya Pratap Singh, posted a video on social media criticising the use of soldiers as 'sahayaks' or 'buddy'.
"I had written an application to the PM in which I said that soldiers, who act as sahayaks, should not be made to polish shoes of officers," said Singh, whp's with the 42 Infantry Brigade in Dehradun. He alleged harassment by superiors for writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about these problems.
Today, the Army chief said the use of social media to highlight an issue could have deleterious effect on "brave soldiers guarding India's borders."
The Army says officers get 'sahayaks' for upkeep of their uniforms and weapons, as well as to act as their radio operators and "buddies" during combat operations. But parliamentary committees and other critics have slammed the 'sahayak' system as a vestige of the colonial era. They say officers blatantly misuse their 'sahayaks', getting them to do household work, walk the dogs and take kids to school.
The Army, on its part, has already asked the government to examine whether "non-combatants" should replace soldiers as 'sahayaks' in peace-time locations, while pressing for the system to continue in field and forward areas, said Gen Rawat late last week.
But using social media to air grievances isn't ideal, Rawat said. It can be a "two-sided" weapon which can be used favourably but also has "a detrimental effect", he said. The Army already has an "excellent" grievances redressal system that will now be topped by his "suggestions-cum-grievances" boxes, said the new Army chief.
The Army chief said anyone, irrespective of rank or service, can use this mechanism to write directly to him. Assuring full confidentiality, he said the name of the soldier concerned will be deleted before any action is taken.
Markandey Katju raises important questions :
1. Under British rule of course an Indian soldier could not vent his complaint publicly. But after India became independent, has the position not changed ?
2. In a democracy, does the army belong to the army chief, or even to the President of India ( the supreme commander ), or does it belong to the people ?
3. In a democracy, are the people supreme, or are the state authorities ( the President, Prime Minister, etc ) and army chief supreme ?
4. If the army belongs to the people, and if the people are supreme, as I believe they are, then are the people not entitled to know the conditions and welfare of soldiers ? After all, soldiers, and even the army chief, get salaries out of the taxes people pay.
5. How else will people know about the conditions of soldiers except through the media ? The media acts as an agent of the people.
6. The army chief must have served in the army for 30-35 years. Can it be believed that he did know what was going on in the Indian army and the conditions of soldiers . If he did, why did he not take, or recommend ,correctional steps till now?
Officers posted videos countering recent string of soldiers' complaints
The counter videos say such acts cause breakdown of force discipline
Army Chief urged jawans to use 'grievance boxes' at camps for complaints
NEW DELHI: A day after Army Chief General Bipin Rawat defended the force's 'grievances redressal' and 'Sahayak' or Buddy system, another video of a disgruntled jawan - adding to a recent string of complaints from soldiers - has appeared on social media. In a quick counter, officers have also posted videos saying such acts are a serious breakdown of discipline within the force.
"There are many people involved in walking the dogs of officers," says a jawan from the 408 Field Hospital in Batalik in Jammu and Kashmir, in the video.
He goes on to say, "In any base, all the vehicles of the army such as Gypsies are used by the families of officers to roam around, not jawans. Official cars are being given to people who go to beauty parlours. But if a jawan has an emergency or needs to urgently return home, a car is not provided to him."
A soldier, in a recent video on YouTube, had alleged that he was forced to "wash clothes, polish boots and walk dogs" for his seniors. This had invoked a reaction from the Army Chief, who explained and defended the 'Sahayak' or buddy system in the force.
"The officer has a buddy who is his sahayak. We call him a sahayak because he does odd jobs for him and he becomes his buddy. He takes care of the officer and vice versa. In peace stations, this buddy helps him with everything," General Bipin Rawat said at the Army Day press conference yesterday, his first after taking over as Army Chief, explaining, "He is the one who comes in the morning with your cup of tea and wakes you up, gets your dress ready and you go for PT. After you come back, he prepares your dress because there are only 45 minutes or so for an officer to get dressed and go for his first parade. So he helps you. He prepares your accoutrements and sometimes, it means polishing your brassware (brass symbols of rank worn on military uniforms), polishing your belt and polishing your boots."
Another soldier, Border Security Force constable Tej Bahadur Yadav, had posted Facebook videos alleging poor quality food and near starvation on the front-lines, while a constable of the paramilitary CRPF had posted a message to the PM on YouTube, alleging discrimination compared to the army and abysmal pay.
The Home Ministry maintains that claims have not been substantiated.
In counter videos, officers say that army faces an unprecedented crisis in discipline with jawans voicing their complaints through social media. "The Army doesn't operate through WhatsApp, Facebook or TV. Those misusing social media and trying to create a certain impression should face disciplinary action. Poor discipline affects the morale of the forces and this affects the ability of the Army to fight," says an officer in a video.
In another message, a retired officer says. "Essentially what we are now doing is questioning and subverting what is the bedrock of great militaries and it's called the chain of command."
The Army Chief has urged soldiers to use the "suggestion-cum-grievance" box which he said would be put at the army headquarters and every camp.
"I assure (you) that every complaint will reach me directly and we will attend to it on priority. If troops are still not happy, they can go ahead and use any other means," Genreral Rawat has said.
Army Chief said that soldiers must raise their complaints internally
He also urged the troops to use suggestion/ grievance boxes at the Army headquarters
Gen Rawat also stressed the need to counter the "enemy who will try tactics to destroy India's secular fabric."
NEW DELHI: Army Chief General Bipin Rawat today again asserted that the surgical strikes+ across the Line of Control (LoC) into Pakistan can be repeated if the "situation warrants".
"Surgical strikes were a demonstration of what we can do if situation warrants. Will do it again if needed," said Rawat at a press conference in Delhi.
Addressing his first press conference after taking over as Army Chief+ , Gen Rawat said, "In the recent time the ceasefire violations have come down but if not then, we may resort for such surgical strikes again."
"Infiltration attempts are being regularly made, the day before yesterday two terrorists were killed along the Line of Control in Poonch (Jammu and Kashmir)," Rawat said.
However, "with synergised efforts of security forces, we have been able to bring the situation under control in Jammu and Kashmir," Gen Rawat added.
Explaining the possibility of more surgical strikes, the army chief said that at the first place we should understand why were the strikes conducted in September last year.
"The motive behind surgical strike needs to be understood...if we don't get the correct message from the other side, if we see that infiltration is being encouraged then it (surgical strike) must be conducted again," he stressed.
Commenting on the broader issue of security challenges faced by the country, Gen Rawat said, "While we have challenges along our borders, we have to be concerned about proxy war, terror that are affecting the secular fabric of our nation."
Gen Rawat also confirmed that Pakistan military authorities have committed to the release Indian soldier Chandu Chavan, who inadvertently strayed across the border on September 30 last year.
"Pak has given assurance that he is with them. There are procedures in soldier repatriations and it will be followed," he said.
The army chief also said that soldiers must raise their complaints internally, referring to recent videos of a BSF jawan complaining about poor food and near starvation.
"Suggestion cum grievance boxes are installed at all the army headquarters and the other commands. Anybody having any complaint can use those boxes to voice dissatisfaction. We will address it," Gen Rawat said.
"Still if the grievance is not addressed, whoever has any problem come to me directly," he said.
CHANDIGARH: The wife of the BSF jawan whose video about inferior food served to paramilitary personnel hit the headlines spoke out in defence of her husband on Wednesday.
"If my husband was mentally unstable or indisciplined, why was he given a rifle by the BSF to guard the country's border in crucial areas?" asked Sharmila Yadav, wife of Tej Bahadur Yadav.
My husband's problem is that he is in the habit of not tolerating injustice, for which he has suffered during his service tenure," Sharmila Yadav, wife of Tej Bahadur Yadav, told TOI on Wednesday. Around 90 lakh people have watched the video and around 4.4 lakh have shared it on social media sites in three days.
MHA has ordered a probe into his claims, but BSF IG D KUpadhyaya had asserted on Tuesday that Yadav had in the past been accused of insubordination and intoxication and had faced a court martial.
Talking to TOI over phone from Rewari in Haryana, Sharmila claimed her husband had won a gold medal after completing his training before being inducted into the BSF. She also claims to be in possession of 14 awards given to him by BSF authorities in his 20-year career.
Sharmila alleged that her husband had been punished in the past by the BSF for speaking the truth. "BSF is a disciplined force and in the armed forces even a small mistake is intolerable. If he had such a bad record, why was he retained " she asked.
Sharmila, who lives with her 17-year-old son, Rohit, said her husband wanted to continue for another five years in the BSF, but officers compelled him to take voluntary retirement after completing 20 years of service on January 31. His VRS application has been approved. "My husband had discussed with me many times the poor quality of food served to them but I was stunned when he posted the video. I told him that he may be in trouble." She said many people had questioned the authenticity of the video and the social media account. "Since I know Tej's Facebook password, I logged in to clarify that it was genuine account and post."
Tej is the youngest of five brothers. One of his brothers is also a BSF jawan and another serves in the Gujarat police. Sharmila works in a private company. Son Rohit recently completed his Class XII exam and is preparing for engineering entrance exams.
SRINAGAR: Civilians living near paramilitary forces' camps, particularly those of the Border Security Force (BSF), say officers sell fuel and food provisions meant for the personnel to outsiders at half the market rate.
The "disclosure" made by jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav of the BSF's 29th Battalion in videos on social media supplements accusations of shady dealings by paramilitary officers, particularly those posted to border areas.
Shopkeepers near the Humhama BSF headquarters near Srinagar airport are beneficiaries of petrol and diesel, and even food stores from men of rank, according to a jawan and some civilians. "They sell food items like dal and vegetables to civilians outside the camp at cheaper rates and leave us bereft of the facilities. They even deny us our daily-use items and sell the same to their agents outside the camps," a BSF jawan said on the condition of anonymity.
A civil contractor added, "We get petrol from BSF officers in charge of provisions at Humhama camp at half the market rate... Other items, like rice and spices, are also available much cheaper."
A furniture dealer who requested anonymity said the "purchasing officers, while placing orders for elegant furniture for their offices, take a commission that is more than what we earn". The dealer added, "There is no e-tendering in the BSF. The officer will purchase furniture and take a commission and even compromise on the quality of the items." The story is the same when it comes to some CRPF officers. CRPF IG Ravideep Singh Sahi, who was posted to Srinagar as IG administration a month ago, said he would look into pilfering from stores for profit, if any took place at all. "The jawan is of paramount importance for the force and there should no compromise on the quality of his life when he is on duty," IG Ravideep Sahi said, adding that the CRPF had a proper mechanism for all purchases and that one could not go beyond those rules. A CRPF jawan on law and order duty in Srinagar, however, rejected the notion that the officers treated them badly. "We get quality food on time, and after duty hours we are provided proper accommodation at the concerned police stations."
The BSF has ordered an inquiry into Yadav's allegations, with the report due Wednesday.
A BSF soldier has alleged that troops are served poor quality food in a series of video uploaded on social media
Rajnath Singh has ordered a report from the BSF on the allegations
The soldier claimed that officers sold the food rations illegally
NEW DELHI: Home minister Rajnath Singh sought a detailed report from the Border Security Force (BSF) on allegations of substandard food being served to soldiers deployed along the India-Pakistan border.
"I have seen a video regarding a BSF jawan's plight. I have asked the home secretary to immediately seek a report from the BSF and take appropriate action," Rajnath wrote in a tweet today.
The home minister was referring to videos shared by a BSF soldier on social media, which shows the poor quality of food that is allegedly being served to the troops. The jawan claims they have to go "empty stomach" at times when the food is inedible.
"We only get a parantha and tea as breakfast and this is without any pickle or vegetables... we slog for 11 hours and must stand throughout the duty hours. For lunch, we get dal which only has haldi (turmeric) and salt, with roti. This is the quality of the food we get ... how can a jawan do his duty?" says constable Tej Bahadur Yadav of the BSF's 29th battalion in the video.
Yadav goes on to say that he doesn't blame the government for their plight. Rather, it is the higher-ups and officers "sell off" the essentials procured for them by the government in an "illegal" manner and pocket the money, he claims.
"No one shows our plight. This is deliberate cruelty and injustice against us," Yadav said. He demanded a probe into the matter.
The BSF took cognisance of the video and tweeted that an inquiry has been ordered.
"BSF is highly sensitive to the welfare of its troops. Individual aberrations, if any, are enquired into. A senior officer has already reached the location," the force's official Twitter handle posted today.
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'We have a right to take action against terror bases,' said General Rawat
General Rawat had taken over as the 27th
Army chief last weekOn September 29, he had monitored the surgical strikes real time
New Delhi: New Army chief General Bipin Rawat has said India has a right to take action against terror bases across the Line of Control and the army will not shy off from conducting more surgical strikes if needed.
The surgical strikes, said General Rawat, who had taken over as the 27th Army chief last week, were meant to "send out a message". "If there are terrorist bases across and if they continue to disrupt the situation on our side of the LoC, then we have a right to take action against the terrorists, who are being supported from across by the adversary," he added.
The surgical strikes of September 29 were very "well planned," said General Rawat, who, as the Vice-Chief of Army Staff, had personally monitored the operation. "Extensive preparation was carried out and then it was executed," he said. The plans were kept on a need to know basis to ensure safety of the troops and the strike was being monitored "real time".
The strikes against the terror camps had started at midnight, with the troops moving across the Line of Control to target seven launchpads, where terrorists had been placed, ready to infiltrate into India and carry out attacks on different metros. Going at least 2 km across the Line of Control, they had targeted the camps killing a huge number of terrorists and their guides, and returned before sunrise. Besides being monitored real time, the operation, sources had said, was also recorded on cameras mounted on drones.
"The credit for this goes to my predecessor who had planned these operations very well, the northern Army commander and troops on the ground," said the General, who, government sources had said, was picked for the top job superceding two senior officers for his edge in operational experience.
The appointment, a first such decision in 35 years, was vehemently questioned by the opposition and a section of the defence establishment. As the Congress and the Left Front questioned the selection, the BJP has slammed their stance, calling it "politicising" of a key army appointment.
Today, General Rawat said a government decision cannot be "influenced by individuals". "If it were that easy, everybody would be running up behind the government and getting themselves appointed to places they wish".
As for the two seniors, Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, who headed the Eastern Command and Southern Command Chief PM Hariz, he said, "We have broken bread a number of times, we have grown up together so I think we understand each other."