AS TENSIONS rise along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, officers from the Institute of National Integration (INI), which imparts training to religious teachers of the Indian Army, say teachers play a very important role in keeping morale of the troops high during conflict, through sermons and motivational speeches they deliver and also as counselors, helping soldiers deal with combat stress.
The teachers also assist families of the soldiers to cope with the situation. A unique feature of almost all the Army units in India is a place called the Sarva Dharma Sthal, which is a common place of worship for all religions and faiths. Some large units have separate premises for worship for different religions but all are located in the same area. Like, military chaplains in the armed forces across the world, who are ministers accompanying the troops, Indian Army has religious teachers, who also look after these places of worship, said an officer from INI.
The recruit religious teachers for the Army are selected through a separate selection process and undergo the training at the INI, which is located within the campus of the College of Military Engineering (CME) at Dapodi in Pune. They are commissioned as junior commissioned officers (JCOs) with designations like Maulavis, Pundits, Priests, Monks or Granthis. INI Commandant Brig Birendra Singh said, “In Army, soldiers from all faiths and religions come together, and what unites them is the duty towards the nation. In conflict scenarios, soldiers are away from their homes and have to face the enemy. Keeping their morale high is always the key. The talks that religious teachers deliver, help motivate the soldiers.”
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An officer from the institute said, “The religious teachers are also trained in behavioural and social sciences. They are also taught in detail about the social fabric of the country. One of the important issues the soldiers face is the Combat Stress. Through the lectures, these teachers try to do group counselling of the troops and help them tackle the stress. If they come across cases where they find individuals badly struggling with the stress, the teachers refer them to the psychiatric units of the military hospitals for further counseling or treatment. The families who stay with the troops in some places, also attend many of these talks. The religious teacher of the unit is always in touch with the commanding officers and both give each other feedbacks.”
The officer added, “Death of a soldier is always tragic but the troops have to face it. The teachers are trained in performing these rituals too. In cases, when religion of one particular faith is not available in one particular unit, the teacher from other faith can perform those rituals. This only happens in the Indian Army. All the teachers are given brief training of basic practices, notions and rituals in all the religions to which the soldiers belong.” Established in 1985, INI trains approximately 300 personnel every year and has trained over 7,000 religious teachers till now. In a recent addition to the training at the institute, teachers are also being trained in family counseling of the soldiers, who face domestic issues.