Time to abolish orderly system in armed forces

Time to abolish orderly system in armed forces

Yet another video went viral recently in which an army jawan gave vent to his frustration in the orderly system and the humiliation for the jawans who perform these duties in the Indian Army.

Sepoy Sindhav Jogidas Lakhubai’s contention that he was subjected to punitive action for refu­sal to work as “sahayak” has been rubbished by the army stating that he was never employed as a “buddy” to any officer. Despite the army’s denial, the fact remains that the system is drawing the wrath of the jawans.

Earlier this month, Lance Naik Roy Mathew figured in a sting operation in which the jawans were seen doing mundane chores for officers like washing clothes, walking the dogs and escorting their children to schools at the Artillery Centre at Deolali. The lance naik was subsequently found dead in an abandoned barrack which the army officials say is a case of suicide due to guilt of exposing his officers.

The army version is, however, not acceptable to the family members of the deceased jawan who suspect foul play due to injuries found on his body. The resistance to a second post mortem of the jawan by the army personnel who accompanied the body to Kollam further compounded the suspicion. Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre announced that a high level probe would be conducted into the death of the jawan.

In January this year, Richa Singh, the wife of Lance Naik Yagya Pratap Singh had resorted to social media to air the grievances of her husband who was being harassed for refusal to work as a “sahayak”. Not only in the army but also in the paramilitary and the police forces, the subject has, of late, become a matter of hot discussion and rancour among the constabulary.

A vestige of the colonial legacy, the orderly system has continued under different names like ”batman”, “sevadar”, “sahayaks” (in army), “security aides” ( in the central paramilitary forces) and even as “buddies”, as the army now claims. The nomenclature is merely to hoodwink the powers that be, just as all golf courses on army land are shown as “environmental parks” in their records.

The buddy system is operative among the commandos where one commando co­mes to the rescue of another when in trouble while carrying out operations. Behind the impregnable iron curtain of the army, the orderlies carry out all menial duties much against their wishes and none dare refuse. The social media now serves as a platform for the desperate personnel to air their grievances albeit at grave risk to their careers.

In the para military forces and the police, the men perform duties of orderlies much against their wishes though there can be no denying the fact there are a section of personnel who prefer to work as orderlies merely because of certain privileges that they get to enjoy as compared to other comrades.

It is no secret that against an authorisation of one orderly for each officer from the rank of inspector in police and paramilitary forces to the top brass, many of them engage many more personnel as orderlies depending upon the rank.

The British Army is known to have phased out the system of batmen after World War II. Pakistan Army too has done away with the tradition but the Indian Army and para military forces vehemently resist any such move on some pretext or the other eventually linking it to national security. In the present scenario, nobody dare talk anything linked to national security.

In March 2010, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence had opined that the system of employing jawans as “sahayaks”, “prevalent in the army in one form or the other since British days, is a shameful practice which should have no place in independent India.”

It went on to add that the government should “issue instructions to stop the practice forthwith, as this lowers the self-esteem of the jawans”. The government of the day however preferred to continue with the system assuring the Committee that “sahayaks” will not be used for menial works.

Depleted strength
In April 2013, a Parliamentary committee headed by the BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu had recommended the government to abolish the orderly system as it affected the morale of the policemen and considerably depleted the strength for normal policing duties. The panel stated that thousands of policemen will be available for law and order duties and thereby mitigate the shortfall of over 5.39 lakhs police personnel all over the country. Similar recommendations made by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission and the Sixth Pay Commission were also ignored.

As to why the soldiers and poli­cemen shy away from working as orderlies is the fact that majority of them are fairly well educated now and expect to be treated with dignity in keeping with their job profile. Gone are the days when less educated boys were recruited in lower ranks and were happy running errands as long as they were in a government job. They looked upon their officers with awe and reverence. Not so any more.

Many of them are almost as much educated as the officers’ lot and hence feel it humiliating to be working as orderlies. In particular, the personnel avoid working with officers’ families. To be ordered around by the wives of the officers is something they would detest. The officers have the authority, not so the ladies (or spouses). If the Air Force and the Navy can do without the system of orderlies, why not the Army?

There can be no denying the fact that the officers would definitely need help but that can be sorted out by paying them servant allowance. Andhra Pradesh Police abolished the orderly system in 2009. The government has to seriously consider abolishing this age-old orderly system to avoid serious consequences later. We need to change in keeping with the times.

(The writer is a retired Inspector General of Police, CRPF)