2017: For jawans, a year of discontent

The year 2017 was marked by a growing clamour by jawans against poor service conditions and discrimination. There is no evidence yet that they have been heard

Ashutosh Sharma

A growing clamour of jawans complaining against orderly or batman or sahayak-system in military and para-military forces—thanks to smart-phones and social media revolution—marked year 2017.

Even though Indian Navy and Air Force have abolished the orderly system, the military and para-military forces refuse the change. Notably, neighbouring countries like China, Pakistan and Bangladesh employ civilians as helpers in armed forces. UK—from whom India inherited the practice—did away with orderlies after World War II like many other European countries. USA uses ‘enlisted aides’ for Generals.

Currently, many jawans have been facing internal inquiries for taking to social media for airing their grievances despite a warning by Army Chief General Bipin Rawat earlier this year. Unfazed, the disgruntled jawans continued to share videos showing soldiers recruited in combat roles doing menial jobs that range from washing and ironing clothes of an officer’s family, polishing shoes, cooking and serving food at the homes of officers, baby-sitting, watering plants, walking pet dogs and even escorting the officer’s family members, all through the year.

On Friday, a pamphlet was distributed at Dharamshala cantonment that accused a Brigadier and his wife of ill-treating the troops and their families. While the flyers were distributed at the camp along with newspapers, the pamphlet was spread extensively on social media as well.

Allegedly, the wife of the Brigadier makes ladies from the families of jawans dance in front of her, they are denied health facility, troops are not provided any vehicles for visiting the hospital and the Brigadier and his wife ridicule Gurkha troops in front of the Sikh troops whereas the Sikhs are ridiculed in the presence of Gurkha troops.

Similarly, a recent video shows jawans performing “wedding duty”. In November this year a contingent of uniformed BSF soldiers were stationed on all the major roads leading to Forest Hill Resort in Chandigarh, where the wedding of a BSF IG’s daughter was being solemnised. The jawans—who had been called up from places as far as Jammu, Bengaluru, Rajasthan and Gujarat for the wedding duty—were seen guiding and escorting guests, regulating traffic and working as caterers.

On his Facebook page on November 21, Tej Bahdur Yadav—who was earlier court-marshalled for sharing videos showing poor quality food being served to jawans in snow-bound border areas—posted that even the food served to the baratis was sourced from BSF camp. He claimed to have all the records substantiating his allegations.

Lance Naik Yagya Pratap Singh—who released videos on social media, accusing his seniors of and exploitation—was supposed to retire on November 30. But Army ordered his court-martial on the same day at Rajput Regiment Center Fatehgarh, Uttar Pradesh.

“My husband has been detained after he circulated a video and a letter on his social media. His phone was confiscated on December 1 and we haven’t spoken to him since then. His senior officers had been threatening him that ‘you are going to beg on the streets soon’. They have been bulling him into taking extreme step,” claims Richa Singh, wife of Yagya Pratap, a resident of Rewa in Madhya Pradesh.“My husband has been detained after he circulated a video and a letter on his social media. His phone was confiscated on December 1 and we haven’t spoken to him since then. His senior officers had been threatening him that ‘you are going to beg on the streets soon’. They have been bulling him into taking extreme step,” claims Richa Singh, wife of Yagya Pratap, a resident of Rewa in Madhya Pradesh.

“I’ve written a letter to the Prime Minister and President of India and sought their intervention,” says Richa, fearing threat to the life of her husband.

In March, a decomposed body of Roy Mathew (33) was found hanging from the ceiling of an abandoned barrack outside the unit lines in Devlavi Cantonment. He figured in a journalist’s sting operation in which he among others was surreptitiously filmed while criticising the orderly system.

2017: For jawans, a year of discontent
A copy of FIR filed against Pankaj Mishra (left), Letter written by Yagya Pratap Singh (centre) and court-martial order of Lance Nayak Yagya Pratap Singh (Right)

In October, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) sacked Pankaj Mishra, a constable whose video criticising Home minister Rajnath Singh for “not advising” PM Modi “in the right direction” went viral in April after a Naxal attack on the CRPF in Sukma. CRPF filed an FIR against him following which he was arrested by the police. A resident of Bihar, Pankaj is currently facing the court trail in Assam.

Tej Bahadur Yadav now runs an organisation, Fouji Ekta Nayay Kalyan Manch (Trust), that claims to fight for the rights of jawans in military and para-military forces. The website of the Trust boasts of helping soldiers court-marshalled on false grounds. “It’s our mission to ensure justice to the jawans. Whether the issues are about their mental health, physical health or the food that is served to them, we are here to stand in solidarity with them and secure their interests,” the website claims.

Tej Bahadur claims to be in touch with over 1.5 lakh jawans through video-calls. “On most of the days I attend to over 40-50 calls from jawans,” he claims.

Nalin Talwar, a member of Sabka Sainik Sangarsh Committee which has been campaigning against corruption in the forces and exploitation of jawans says, “Instead of addressing the genuine issues of jawans, armed forces have been targeting them. But the jawans haven’t given in. The defiant jawans continue sharing the videos featuring them tending to the dogs of senior officers, working in the kitchens at their homes and doing other menial jobs.”

“All the laws of defence forces have been inherited from the British Raj. Due to the continuation of the same old laws, officers of the de-fence forces see themselves as British masters,” Nalin asserts, adding that a separate commission comprising retired judges of the Supreme Court should be set up to formulate new service rules.

“Another commission should be instituted to look into the complaints regarding corruption cases in the armed forces and ensure that corrupt officers don’t go scot-free.”

“While innumerable writers and analysts, both civilian and military, write against degradation of armed forces stature, not one word is heard from bureaucrats or ministers. Silence is an admission of guilt,” said a retired Army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Describing orderly system as a ‘shameful practice’, a Parliamentary committee in 2009 had recommended that officers should make do without orderlies. The UPA government had, however, rejected the panel’s advice.

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Published: 3 Dec 2017, 12:40 PM