End buddy system in army

The recent death Roy Mathew, a 33-year-old army jawan from Kerala, in Nashik has again exposed the strong hold of the buddy (sahayak) system in the armed forces and shown how dangerous it is for a soldier even to talk about it. Buddies are soldiers who are deployed to help officers and in practice it amounts to a system of slavery. According to the army, Roy Mathew committed suicide after he talked to the media about the practice. He had talked to a news portal about it without realising that he was being recorded. When the identity became known he was harassed and that probably led to the suicide. The army has blamed the media for his death and stated that it was his guilt about falsely blaming senior officers that prompted him to take his own life. But this is misrepresentation and it was his fear of punishment that made him commit suicide. The media, too, behaved unethically and very irresponsibly and compromised him. It endangered a poor jawan’s life in its excitement over a sting.

The buddy system is a legacy from the colonial times when Indian soldiers had to work as officers’ domestic servants. The system has not changed even now. Soldiers are made to do domestic chores like walking the officers’ dogs, taking their children to school, carrying the shopping bags of officers’ wives and other menial jobs. This is what Roy Mathew said when he was recorded. About 1.5 lakh soldiers are deployed in officers’ homes to do these duties. Other soldiers have also opposed it and one of them even uploaded a video of buddy work on social media. If the members of the forces, who have to fight for the country and defend it, are made to do such lowly work, their morale could only be imagined. There is abuse and humiliation built into the practice. It demeans the soldiers and robs them of their self-respect. Caste, class and other considerations are also said to be involved in the practice. It is a feudal practice unfit for modern armed forces.

Though the practice has been widely criticised, it is still continuing. A parliamentary committee had in its report, strongly criticised it and called for its abolition. But the army said that the system was only intended to give professional and operational help to the officers, and soldiers may have been doing work at home ‘’out of reverence’’ for officers. Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat recently defended the practice, claiming that it helps to create synergy. But the government should ensure that this wrong and degrading practice ends altogether in its present form.

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