Thursday, 30 July 2009

Join the Army, be a Batman

  Manas Gupta
  Tuesday July 28, 2009

It's one way to serve the country. Join the Indian Army as a soldier, train to be a lean, mean fighting machine, and spend half your time polishing shoes of officers, serving their wives tea or taking their dogs for walks. And they call you a Batman.

Unfortunately, you aren't the caped crusader from Gotham City with a million gadgets and a fancy car…unless your uniform includes a cape while watering the colonel sahab's plants.

It may have been a colonial hangover in the beginning, but it's something the Army has steadfastly refused to do away with.  The parliamentary standing committee hit the nail on the head when it said "the committee hardly needs to stress that jawans are recruited for serving the nation and not to serve family members of officers in household work, which is humiliating.''

Seriously? You mean soldiers actually have to learn to fire weapons and guard our borders. And all this while I thought they were being groomed for the hospitality industry.

Unfortunately, even our government wants these soldiers to continue working as officers' 'maids'. The centre has rejected the parliamentary committee's recommendation that officers should make do without orderlies.

There's no denying that our Army is professional and well-trained and prides itself on its war record. But fighting abilities somehow don't seem to go with dish-washing talents. But with an employment crunch staring India in the face, perhaps institutions could come up with diplomas in sweeping, gardening, car-washing, dog-walking etc and the gentlemen holding these diplomas could get a direct entry as brave Batmen ready to show 'courage under fire'. I guess the only fire some of them may face may be in the kitchen.

The army feels  an officer gets a sahayak for the upkeep of his uniform, weapons and other equipment, as also act as his radio operator and ''buddy'' during combat. So, let me get this straight. An Army officer, who undergoes such rigorous training and is responsible for a large body of men under his command, can't even take care of his own uniform? He needs his 'sahayak' to polish his shoes and iron his clothes? Anyway, why would your 'radio operator' be with you 24x7 dusting your drawing room or getting 'baba' from school. Maybe he'll radio from school to inform 'sahab' that his son has reached school.
I don't want to deride the courageous officers of the Indian Army. We all know how bravely many of them fought on the borders. But that doesn't mean his perks should include treating a fellow soldier as a personal servant. All Army formations have been told to ensure sahayaks are not employed for ''menial household work'' since as combatant soldiers they should not be used for anything which adversely impacts their dignity and self-respect. Question is who's following this new rule?

In the late 90s, I was staying in Army Cantonment, Jaipur. The Army Chief came on a visit and in his speech advised the officers to avoid treating soldiers as orderlies and misusing Army rules and benefits. At that very time, barely a km from the venue, three tents had been set up outside a 'separated family accommodation'. In these tents were staying 4 soldiers of a particular regiment sent from J&K by the commanding officer of their unit to look after his family in Jaipur. What medals would they have taken home?

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