Force in distresshttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/force-in-distress/

Force in distress

The jawan-officer relationship is changing — but the army isn’t

The jawan-officer relationship is changing — but the army isn’t

A few days ago,according to a report in this paper,a group of soldiers of the 56 Armoured Regiment posted in Patiala refused to perform “menial tasks” for their officers and returned to their regimental centre. This is the latest in a series of incidents in which jawans have confronted their officers or stood up to them; earlier incidents in Samba and Leh had turned ugly. A sudden rash of such incidents suggests that the problem may lie deeper: in the relationship between jawans and their officers that has changed,and the structures and attitudes of the army that haven’t acknowledged and reflected this evolving reality. Cantonments have long served as lovely time capsules retaining the flavour of the Raj but in the media-rich environment of the present day,it is impossible for them to remain insulated from the world.

Earlier,soldiering was rather like a hereditary lifestyle choice,taken for life. Now,it is a professional career option,one that a soldier may change at any time. The modern jawan is likely to be impatient with the legacy of feudalism that the army has comfortably perpetuated,in which senior officers may count on jawans who serve them as domestic help,and jawans may count themselves fortunate for their proximity to the officer class. Economic growth and the spread of welfare have also narrowed the gap between the catchment areas from which officers and jawans are drawn. Officers are routinely recruited from the lower castes and lower middle classes,from which jawans have always been drawn. And while poorer districts were rich sources of jawans,the urban poor,too,could have military ambitions.

The army should acknowledge that class differences are being erased by the forces of history and dismantle the class privileges that are hardwired into its very structure. It may be time to retire appellations like “batman” and “orderly”,which suggest a culture of personal service. The qualitative difference between officers and other ranks should be defined in purely professional terms. This would diminish the chances of further confrontations between the ranks and eventually create a better integrated fighting force.