Civilian sahayaks for army get thumbs down
The move follows social media posts, including one by sepoy Sindhav Jogidas complaining about being abused by his officer and his wife, which went viral.punjab Updated: Jun 26, 2017 19:50 IST
The Indian Army’s move to deploy civilians as sahayaks in family stations hasn’t gone down well with veterans, with a majority of them calling it impractical. Most of them feel it will undercut the bond between an officer and his buddy, which is forged in peace and tested in war.
The move follows social media posts, including one by sepoy Sindhav Jogidas complaining about being abused by his officer and his wife, which went viral. Then there was the suicide by Lance Naik Roy Mathew that triggered a debate with detractors calling this practice a relic of the colonial era. Earlier called an orderly, the sahayak is a soldier assigned to an officer to attend to his personal requirements.
Calling this move a non-starter which would only add to the army’s financial burden, Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd) says, “The two are comrades in arms with deep mutual respect for each other. Those who talk of doing away with the sahayaks have little experience of soldiering or this unique relationship.”
Brig KS Kahlon (retd), the director of the Punjab chapter of the All India Defence Brotherhood, narrated how the late Punjab governor Lt Gen JFR Jacob made a special visit to Amritsar to meet his retired sahayak.
Many veterans recounted the tale of late Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw during the Burma campaign in 1944-45. Then a Major, Manekshaw may have succumbed to bullets injuries had it not been for his sahayak, who waved his weapon at the doctor when he refused to treat the unconscious officer, and got his attention.
Poking a hole in the theory of a civilian sahayak in peace stations (where families are allowed), Lt Gen TK Sapru (retd) says, “A sahayak is not a servant, he is a buddy who has many other implications in peace and war. He cleans your weapon, readies your uniform, you can’t replace him even in peace.” A civilian sahayak, he said, cannot accompany officers in field areas and during operations.
Calling reports about the misuse of sahayaks an aberration and not the norm, Lt Gen Sapru says, “The army knows how to crack the whip. There is no need to change the system.”
PEACE AND FIELD
The officers also dismissed the watertight concept of peace and field. An officer said most units undertake annual exercises even during peace postings. Also, any unit can be moved to a forward area at a day’s notice. As Lt Gen H S Panag (retd) put it, “Peace stations are not really peace stations. If you are deployed in the plains of Uttar Pradesh or Punjab, you can go to battle within three days.”
But unlike the others, Lt Gen Panag called the move a step in the right direction. “Static stations such as the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, and Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, already have civilian sahayaks,” he says.
While saying that army must change with time, Brig Kiran Krishan (retd), however, adds it’s wrong to single out the armed forces for the sahayak culture. “The civilian bureaucracy and police also have the sahayak system but with a different name,” he says.
Calling it a bad idea, Col BS Sohi (retd) says soldiers are trained and trusted professionals who follow a set of rules. “How can you expect the same level of professionalism and integrity from a civilian?” he says. “Also, I have often seen that civilian workers form unions and go on strike,” he adds.
The veterans agreed that the army must take a balanced decision as it could affect its operational efficiency and ethos.
Lt Gen Harwant (retd) says: “Such a step may convey the impression that there is loss of trust between officers and their men.”