It’s time India addressed the grievances of its paramilitary forces
At the root of the problem is the deeply hierarchical nature of the armed and paramilitary forces, whose command structures and protocol that govern interactions between officers and men are still rooted in a colonial-era ethoseditorials Updated: Jan 15, 2017 23:35 IST
Something is rotten in the way we treat the jawans who guard our borders and other vital installations across the country. Recently, a jawan of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) shot dead four of his fellows with his service rifle at the Nabinagar power plant in Bihar. By Friday, a video by an army jawan complaining that he was being victimised by his seniors for writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying orderlies or sahayaks should not be made to polish their officers shoes went viral. Prior to this, a jawan of the Border Security Force made headlines with a post on social media showing what terrible food they got to eat.
What provokes these soldiers to break the discipline of a lifetime? Can we just put it down to individual caprice and brush the whole thing under the carpet? At the root of the problem is the deeply hierarchical nature of the armed and paramilitary forces, whose command structures and protocol that govern interactions between officers and men are still rooted in a colonial-era ethos. In the decades since Independence, very little has changed in the way the armed forces treat their recruits, who are still mostly from the rural hinterland. But the recruits have changed; their worldview and expectations have changed. Especially in this age of social media, old shibboleths about how enlisted men should behave can no longer hold true. There have been efforts of late to reform the way leave is granted for example; this being one of the main causes for unrest in the ranks; the other being the often inhumanly long hours they have to stay alert and on their feet. But the concept of separate messes for officers and men remains — it is not the fact that the officers and men do not eat together that is the problem; it is the difference in the quality of what they eat that is.
Hierarchy is inevitable, and indeed necessary, in an armed force. But this also enjoins a greater responsibility on the officers who literally hold the power of life and death over the men and women they command. The army, navy and air force are comparatively better equipped to deal with these problems. The worst-off is the BSF jawan huddled over his gun in a desolate corner somewhere on the country’s borders or the CISF jawan patrolling our airports or large factories or the CRPF jawan in the jungles of Bastar. These paramilitary forces perform functions critical to the country’s security, but have never been given their due. The recent incidents should prompt some action before the disaffection spreads any further.