NEW DELHI: The Army seems all set to sweep its sahayak system into the past, a step that will put an end to the practice of combatants serving as man Fridays to officers.
A senior officer said a plan to recruit service assistants, who will eventually replace sahayaks in the 1.2-million strong Army, is being worked out. The Navy and the Air Force do not have such a system, which happens to be a relic of the colonial rule.
Employment of soldiers as sahayaks has been frequently criticised on the grounds that it lowers their dignity and selfrespect, and parliamentary panels have repeatedly called for abolishing the system. The Army is now tweaking the system to ensure that fighting men do not have to serve in such roles.
Unlike washermen and cooks, sahayaks do not carry out a listed trade in the Army. They are regular soldiers drawn out of fighting and support formations to serve officers.
“If all goes well, the service assistants will be enlisted as sahayaks. That will be their main job during peacetime. However, they will also be trained in combat-related functions so they can double as soldiers in case war breaks out. The final modalities are being worked out,” said another officer.
The Army lists strict do’s and don’ts on sahayak employment, but there have been instances of soldiers being made to do insignificant and unsoldierly household tasks. Sahayaks aren’t supposed to venture beyond duties such as maintaining an officer’s uniform and weapons, or serving as his ‘buddy’ in combat.
A study carried out by the Defence Institute of Psychological Research in 2007 identified use of abusive language, perceived humiliation by superiors, poor command and control, and increased workload as the chief precipitating factors for suicide among troops.