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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Sep 2014

The burning issue of batmen

Mandeep Singh Bajwa, Hindustan Times   December 11, 2012
First Published: 00:10 IST(11/12/2012) | Last Updated: 11:28 IST(11/12/2012)

Contrary to public perception, a batman or sahayak is an officer's or JCO's assistant. His duties include maintaining the officer's uniform and military equipment and helping him in the performance of his duties by relieving him of mundane tasks.

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In addition, he can be asked to undertake tasks of military nature such as drawing the officer's rations or equipment from the supply point or stores or carrying messages. In the field or in combat, the sahayak relieves the officer of routine tasks of personal administration, mans the officer's radio set, acts as his runner or messenger, helps dig his trench, puts up his bivouac, besides forming his one-man protection party.

Hardly a week goes by without some reference in the media about the 'misuse' of combatant soldiers deployed as batmen. The defence committee of Parliament routinely comments on the matter. Needless to say there's great resentment in the officer corps over the issue being misunderstood and even distorted or politicised.  True, over time aberrations have crept into the system and there are some cases of misuse of sahayaks. But abolishing batmen altogether will be like throwing out the baby with the bath water. The army's internal system of checks and balances is robust and dynamic enough to deal with irregularities.

The army is already reeling under a severe shortage of officers since enough young men of the required calibre are not coming forward to be selected. Doing away with one of the perks associated with an officer's job would negatively affect the attractions of an army career. A viable solution would be to replace the combatant sahayaks with non-combatant bearers who would be available to do all kinds of domestic work for officers and be less taxing to the public exchequer. On the move to a non-family station, and officer could have the option to leave his bearer with his family.

Force projection in the South China Sea
Foreign service mandarins are seeking to muzzle Navy Chief Admiral DK Joshi in the context of his Navy Day statement on the navy being capable of force projection to protect Indian interests in the South China Sea. This is not jingoism but the vital protection of the nation's economic interests overseas. Over the years, the navy has built up a blue water capability. Military and political diplomacy has provided us with foreseeable options for naval bases in the region that should have been exploited. To gain a place on the world stage, it's necessary for the iron to enter our collective souls.

Saluting by public figures
A salute is a greeting between soldiers and not a recognition of a senior by a junior. Public figures too need to take salutes from bodies of uniformed personnel on occasion. A few of them do take the trouble to learn the nuances of saluting. In January 1950, General Uday Dubey, the last of the KCIOs (he passed away a few months past his hundredth birthday in 2009) was commanding a brigade at Ambala. One day he was ordered by the commander-in-chief, General KM Cariappa to report to the Prime Minister for a special assignment. Apparently, he was to teach Jawaharlal Nehru the finer points of saluting to prepare him for the first ever Republic Day parade to be held on 26th January.

Brigadier Dubey, as he then was, drilled Nehruji early every morning for a fortnight. The two men would then breakfast together. Nehru called General Dubey his 'Guru'. Indira Gandhi was also very particular about keeping her 'pallu' on her head while saluting. Rajiv Gandhi was also meticulous in saluting. Captain Amarinder Singh is another stickler for the ceremonial salute, not just because of his princely and army background but because he believes in doing things properly. Jaswant Singh of the BJP is another politician with a penchant for the correct form. This makes men and women in uniform happy.

Sainik Aram Ghar at Chandigarh railway station
On going to the Chandigarh railway station in the evening, one is confronted many a times with the sight of jawans proceeding on leave lying about the platform. Enquiries reveal that they're all from Ladakh (many from the Siachen battlefield) and are there to catch late night trains to UP, Bihar or Rajasthan. Flying in from Leh, they've been deposited by the transit camp at Chandigarh airbase at the railway station in the late afternoon and consequently have to wait it out on the platform. Why can't there be a Sainik Aram Ghar at the station where they can wait out the time in comfort? I'm sure the city's energetic and helpful Member of Parliament Pawan Bansal, who's the railway minister to boot, would be only too happy to help here.

Please write in with your comments, feedback, suggestions and personal stories of war and soldiering at msbajwa@gmail.com or call on 093161-35343.

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