“Shooting the messenger” – this phrase is used when instead of taking necessary action about a problem, the person informing about it is punished. Similar is the case with the Indian armed forces currently.
A few days ago, a Border Security Force (BSF) jawan (soldier) posted in Jammu and Kashmir put up a series of videos on social media highlighting the poor food the soldiers received (video included in link). He alleged that the officers sell their quota of ration in the black market. The video quickly went viral. What followed was more predictable than a cheesy Bollywood thriller.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) asked the BSF to investigate the claims made by the soldier. Within a day, the BSF “investigated” and replied that the soldier was an alcoholic and there was no substance in his allegations. Saw that coming, didn’t you?
A day after the BSF jawan, a Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF) jawan posted in Mount Abu (Rajasthan) alleged poor working conditions. He also said that primary treachers in various states earn more than the jawans posted in dangerous locations like Kashmir and the naxal-infested badlands. That is a reality. Their salaries are a pittance compared to what they do – risking their lives every single day. And compared to other sectors, they aren’t paid nearly enough. Yes, army life is about nation and honour. But you don’t mean to starve them into poverty, do you?
All these soldiers used the social media to air their grudges rather than doing it the official way, which is indiscipline per the rules. The new army chief, General Bipin Rawat, told the media that special “grievance boxes” will be set up at the stations for the soldiers to convey their problems directly to him. Very well, you thought.
The next day, he said that the soldiers using social media to air their grievances will be punished. Why? Because their doing so will “lower the morale of the forces.” He asked them to follow the proper channel.
Before you ask, I know the BSF and CRPF are paramilitary forces and have separate systems from the army.
Let’s assume for a moment that the soldiers who have come up with these allegations are all senile, drunkards, even traitors. Despite that, shouldn’t the army and the rest of the forces be more focussed on the actual issue? Investigation of their claims? Or is punishing them more important? Is maintaining the status quo more important than honest fact-checking into the claims of a jawan who, as he claims, risks his job, his honour, even his life?
If you have ever been near or in an army cantonment, you would have definitely seen and/or heard about the conditions of the soldiers. You haven’t? The officer is provided a soldier as “sahayak” (buddy). The soldier is ostensibly meant to work with the “sir.” What he’s actually made to do? Cleaning the officer’s WC, washing his clothes, polishing his boots, taking the madam and babyji to the market and heck, even buying veggies for the madam to cook. Think I’m joking? Read about the army jawan, now on hunger strike, who also posted a complaint on social media.Is this what the jawans, brave jawans who join the forces prepared to lay down their lives for the motherland, be made to do?
The aforementioned things are the legacies of the British Raj. But while the British have abolished many of these, we still have these proud symbols of the “brotherhood” between the members of the forces. For that matter, we also have the sedition clause and Article 377 (Homosexuality) in our Penal Code while the Brits have long since done away with both of them. How cool of us, no?
The statement of the Army chief regarding suggestion boxes at cantonments is honourable but impractical. Say a soldier does pick up the courage to write a letter to him. You think it would be allowed to go to the post without scrutiny? (There is a separate postal service for the armed forces, called the Army Postal Service. ) The questions will be – what need does a “puny” soldier have of writing to the Chief? The consequences, well, imagine them yourself.
When a jawan feels compelled to take to social media to put forth his problems, expecting others to write to the head of the 1.13 million-strong force is either sheer naïveté or grave blunder, or both. And while every single soldier taking to social media would be utter chaos, silencing any question isn’t the answer either.
And assume now that the charges these soldiers are labelling are true. What then? Already, after the BSF jawan’s video, there was a media report the very next day where local residents near the BSF camp said officers sell them rations at half the market price. There are incidents every year where jawans open fire on their fellow soldiers or officers after being fed up of/unable to take the ignominious working conditions. Shouldn’t there be investigations on why these incidents happen? Wouldn’t taking corrective measures to better their lives be more effective in improving the morale of the jawans? Wouldn’t that send a stronger message to all concerned that the top brass cares for the soldier and that transgressions by corrupt and snobbish officers won’t be allowed?
Let me insert an unconditional disclaimer. I respect the armed forces. What they’re doing is more than laudatory or respectable. But let’s not put our heads in sand and assume that everything is hunky-dory for the soldiers. And don’t even get me started on One Rank One Pension (OROP).
The silver lining – the MHA rejected the BSF’s report and asked it to check and investigate again. So something good might come out of this mess after all.
I’ll leave you with this.
Kindly provide your views in the comments section. Thanks for reading.