Termed as “soldier-servants” by the British, and subsequently re-baptized as “batmen” during the period of the World Wars, combatant soldiers were often designated to aide military officers to perform “chores”. While the system ended in Europe, the British Army continued with it in India and the Indian Army persisted with this system even after India’s Independence in 1947 renaming it as the Sahayak system.
India, which has an active military of 1,325,000 has shocked the conscious of the modern progressive world with its senior officers shamelessly eulogizing on the necessity of the Sahayak system. While one still understand their need in a combat zone or a field area , why would one require them in peace stations ? !!! . A modern democratic nation with an active military that is larger than India, namely the U.S.A (active military of 1,492,200), no officer may use an enlisted member as a “servant” for duties that contribute only to the officer’s personal benefit and that have no reasonable connection with the officer’s official responsibilities. It means, the orderly does not clean toilets and walk dogs for the army officer or his wife and children. The orderly system has been reviewed and changed in militaries of most modern democratic nations over the past decades – in some it has been abolished altogether, some have replaced them with non-combatant civilians (NCBs) , and the ones that have retained combatant soldiers as orderlies, their roles have been restricted to official duties and not personal family chores. So why does the Indian army alone shamelessly defend it ?
In March 2010, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence examined the practice of using Jawans as Sahayaks and it was noted that the practice “prevalent in the army in one form or other since British days” was continuing and they were forced to attend to serve family members of the officers. Though “the army categorically deposed before the Committee that the jawans are not technically supposed to attend to the household duties at the residence of the officers”, the practice continues unabated.The Committee commented that this was a “shameful practice which should have no place in independent India” and that it expected the government to “issue instructions to stop the practice forthwith, as this lowers the self-esteem of jawan”.
A Rajput Regiment jawan, Lance Naik Yagya Pratap Singh who has spent 15 years in service, posted a video on social media alleging that jawans were being forced to carry out personal non-combat related chores like washing cars or taking the officer’s dog out for a walk.
The Government of India has thankfully responded promptly and has pressured the Indian army to initiate a comprehensive review of manpower management including a probe into whether officers had a sahayak in the field area and the families retained any in peace stations – a change that is better late than never. It will go a long way if the Indian army remembers that change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.