Zero tolerance

An army court of inquiry has sent out a strong message that indiscipline will not be tolerated across ranks. It has recommended disciplinary action against 168 armymen – officers and jawans -- who were involved in a violent clash at a training range in Nyoma in Ladakh in May last year.

The clash occurred over the beating up of an orderly by a major for allegedly ‘misbehaving’ with his wife. What is more the major did not allow the orderly to access medical treatment. The face-off that soon drew in more officers and jawans resulted in injury to at least four persons. The army leadership rightly ordered an inquiry into the incident. The court of inquiry’s recommendation could result in the court martial of the army men.

The Indian Army takes pride in being among the most disciplined armies in the world. It is a secular force and one that is apolitical. However, a recent string of incidents point to rising unruliness in the ranks. This is worrying as an army’s successful functioning hinges crucially on discipline. It is when it operates as a fist, not as four fingers and a thumb that it is most effective in combating threats to the country. Some will seek to dismiss the unseemly incident at Nyoma as a one-off incident and that too much should not be read into it. That would be an ostrich-like approach. Last year’s violent clashes were among several that happened in recent years.

There are several reasons for the growing indiscipline in the army. One is low morale across ranks, which is the outcome of poor salaries, difficult working conditions, etc. There have been cases of jawans turning their rifles on their seniors or on themselves because they were denied leave to go home or at the receiving end of humiliating treatment.

Many young men join the army hoping to serve their country. Instead they are posted as orderlies and expected to be at the beck and call of the wife and children of the officers. This is a blow to their aspirations, self esteem and self image. These issues must be tackled and not allowed to explode in angry confrontations or violence. There is a danger of defiance and indiscipline in the army escalating into a mutiny. The army must not wait for that escalation to happen. It must signal zero tolerance of indiscipline and nip the growing problems within the forces in the bud.

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