Independent India is 65 years old. If the nation remains united today, the credit goes entirely to the armed forces. They continue to be the sole source of hope for this beleaguered country. They are the last bastion against the fissiparous forces that are inimical to its existence. Therefore, every issue that affects the well-being of the armed forces must be taken seriously.
Indian soldiers fought a war in sub-zero temperatures in lofty Himalayas without proper winter clothing in 1962 without a word of protest… Why have the soldiers become so restless? Where have the things gone wrong?
The recent incident at Sambha is a cause of grave concern. Without sounding alarmist, there are three developments that do not portend well for the health of the army – increasing cases of suicides and fratricide; growing tendency to approach courts for justice; and recent cases of collective indiscipline. Such occurrences were extremely rare earlier.
Indian soldiers are reputed for their mental and physical robustness. They fought a war in sub-zero temperatures in lofty Himalayas without proper winter clothing in 1962 without a word of protest. Have there been any disquieting changes that are compelling them to resort to desperate acts? Why have the soldiers become so restless? Where have the things gone wrong?
Cases of Suicide and Fratricide
On 08 August 2012, the Defence Minister informed the Rajya Sabha that a total of 1,028 soldiers from the army had committed suicide since 2003. During the same period lives of 80 soldiers were lost due to fratricide. There were 102 cases of suicide in 2011 and 62 soldiers had taken their lives till July this year. According to the studies conducted by the Defence Institute of Psychological Research, stress is one of the key factors that drive soldiers to take the extreme step.
Challenges in military life are different from those faced by civilians, both in terms of emotional security, psychological equilibrium and physical well-being.
Although stress is a biological term, it is commonly used in a metaphorical sense. It has also come to be accepted as a euphemism for describing difficulties faced by an individual. Failure to adapt to challenges results in perceiving them as threats, which in turn generates pressures. Extreme pressures become stress. When stress surpasses ability to handle, it becomes a threat to both physical and emotional well-being.
Challenges in military life are different from those faced by civilians, both in terms of emotional security, psychological equilibrium and physical well-being. Resultant stresses generate the “fight-or-flight” response in many soldiers.
Rapport, which is a function of inter-personal communication between a commander and his troops, is the best protection against stress related break-downs. Therefore, suicides and fratricides are entirely due to the lack of necessary interaction between officers and their men.
There has been an exponential increase in the number of court cases being filed by service personnel to seek justice. Over one lakh cases pertaining to the armed forces personnel are pending in various courts and the trend has acquired alarming dimensions. The most important reason for the surfeit of court cases is loss of confidence in the fairness of the system. Soldiers feel aggrieved when they feel deprived of their rightful due, leading to dissentions and litigations.
Most non-statutory and statutory complaints keep shuttling up and down on technicalities, without the complainants getting any response.
The army has an institutionalised arrangement for an effective internal complaint-redressal mechanism. While the commanders keep the troops informed of the latest issues through ‘sainik sammelans’, soldiers can seek audience with their commanders (‘arzi report’) to apprise them of their complaint and seek redressal. If not satisfied, they can submit written appeals to the Chief (non-statutory complaints) and the Government (statutory complaints).
Unfortunately, the above mechanism has become defunct and lost its credibility. Interview or ‘Arzi Report’ has degenerated into a worthless ritual. Most non-statutory and statutory complaints keep shuttling up and down on technicalities, without the complainants getting any response.
As officers are hardly available to attend to troops’ grievances, soldiers feel neglected and are forced to knock at the doors of the courts. Once again, the reason is lack of regular interaction between the officers and the troops.
Collective indiscipline in a unit is highly ominous. Indian soldiers are too disciplined to resort to insubordination unless driven to it. They are inherently very strong mentally and have a very high threshold of endurance.
A large number of grievances are due to lack of information and are misplaced. A minor misconception or misunderstanding can take the form of major dissent if not noticed and addressed in time.
Such incidents do not occur as a result of impulsive outburst but are a manifestation of simmering discontentment over a long period. Unconfirmed reports, conjectures and even rumours can give rise to antagonism against the organisation.
A large number of grievances are due to lack of information and are misplaced. A minor misconception or misunderstanding can take the form of major dissent if not noticed and addressed in time. As per press reports, false news of the death of a soldier in the hospital acted as a trigger for collective indiscipline in an artillery unit in Leh. Had the leaders been in regular communication with the troops, they could have scotched the rumour and prevented the events from taking an ugly turn.
Through regular interaction, vigilant commanders can learn about issues of disconcert and take necessary steps to put the soldiers at ease. It is certainly a failure of command, purely due to lack of required communication with troops.
Shortage of Officers is Proving Perilous
Management of stress faced by troops and redressal of their grievances are command functions. Regular interaction acts as a safety valve – perceptive leaders can discern warning signals and take steps to prevent acts of desperation by some over-stressed soldiers.
The army is facing a shortage of a whopping 26 percent – carrying a deficiency of over 12,000 officers against the sanctioned strength of 46,500.
The current worrisome developments show that the existing bond of camaraderie between the officers and the men is becoming tenuous due to a dilution of communication between commanders and the soldiers.
Acute shortage of officers is the primary cause for the increasing gulf between the officers and the men.
All units are being asked to make do with ‘hard scale’ of officers’ strength. With normal commitment of courses, temporary duties, annual leave and attachments, some units have to function with 7 to 9 officers. Resultantly, a company which should have 4-5 officers is being manned by a single officer. It is well nigh impossible for him either to know all soldiers in his company or to look after their welfare adequately.
Quite unfairly, a commanding officer is expected to train and administer his unit with a handful of officers – a most daunting task. Command of a unit has become an unenviable challenge.
The army is facing a shortage of a whopping 26 percent – carrying a deficiency of over 12,000 officers against the sanctioned strength of 46,500. Authorities are rightly seized of the matter and the intake is being increased. But it will take decades for the deficiencies to be made up fully.
There is a need to take immediate action to mitigate the problem to the extent possible. Some recommendations are as follows:-
- Presently, all staff appointments are fully subscribed and units are kept under-posted. It should be the other way around. It is better to carry deficiencies on staff.
- A fresh look should be taken at all courses being run and their utility – is the value of the course worth depriving the unit of the officer’s services. Courses should not be run purely to sustain training establishments.
- Every single young officer should be recalled from ERE duties. No young officer should be detailed as ADC to the President, Governors and the formation commanders. It is a most undesirable sight to see young officers being wasted on ceremonial clap-trap while the units are deprived of their presence.
- There should be a total ban on the attachment of unit officers to formation headquarters. Most station duties should be performed by staff officers.
To many, the above suggestions may appear to be too radical. But drastic problems need drastic cures. It must be appreciated that units are the real punch of the army and allowing the current drift to continue can prove perilous.
This article was first published in 14 Aug, 2012.
Good day Sir,
I am Army personnel daughter. I was reading your articles, it is really very informative sir. Recently i was thinking to drop one of the issue but unfortunately i do not know whom i have to address it.
Indian army have increased the Cut off marks for TGC Tech and SSc tech from 60% 70 % and no to 75 % for Mechanical branch, due to which many student who still have 4 5 chances are not eligible to apply for army.
Percentage for other branches are 60% only mech branch it is 75%. Sir please advise me what to do and whom to contact on this matter. I really need guidance and help Sir please.
my email id is email@example.com
SSBs should be more tolerant. If a person is applying for more than 10 times and still not getting in due to shortage of some marks then he should be recommended given he is adamant and passionate to join defence forces. Also the case should be in medical where a slight injury or mismatch of laid standard hampers the chances of the young. Also some entries have only few vacancies where candidates get merit out after clearing SSB and medical. Shortage is not due to disinterest of youth. Pick up any entry and see no. of applicants but the IA should look in to the case that if they could modify or relax their stringent requirements according to today’s needs.
THE PHYSICAL , EDUCATION , INTELLIGENCE , EQ , BAR FOR NDA AND IMA NEEDS TO BE RAISED MANY FOLD .SIMILARLY SALARIES , PERKS , RETENTION , RETIREMENT BENEFITS , INJURY PENSIONRULES NEED TO BE REWRITTEN WITH A LIBERAL DOZE TO BENEFIT THE RETIRED AND INJURED PERSONNEL. COMPENSATION FOR DEATH , GRANTS TO WIDOWS , FAMILIES AND PARENTS OF SOLDERS NEED TO BE ENHANCED TO ATTRACT AND NOT DISCOURAGE . HARRASSMENT BY STATE AND MOD BABUS TO BE PENALISED . ONLY WHEN THE SOLDER, SAILOR AIRMEN ARE TREATED AS FIRST CLASS CITZENS OF THE COUNTRY WILL THE ARMED FORCES ATTRACT THE BEST . FOR OFFICERS THEIR SALARIES PERKS , PENSIONS AND OTHER BENEFITS NEED TO 4TIMES THE BABUS SITTING IN PLUSH OFFICES AND ONLY MAJ GEN RANK AND ABOVE BE LINKED TO IAS AND IPS . THE JUNIOR AND MIDDLE RANK OFFICERS WHO BEAR THE BRUNT HAVE TO BE TREATED AS ELITE OF THE NATION IF EVER THE MANTRIES AND BABUS ASPIRE TO SIT ON THE HIGH TABLE OF THE US SECURITY COUNCIL. THE ARMED FORCES TODAY HAVE BEEN REDUCED TO THE LEVEL OF A CONSTABULARY AND THE GENERALS BY AND LARGE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DOWNSLIDE .
Sir, I feel shortage of officers is just an alibi. The more important reasons are Immature COs of 14- 15yrs of service but only 5-7 yrs of regtl service ; large number of non military duties in peace stations which are increasing over the years and are highly disliked by the jawans ; Zero Error Syndrome which is talked about by all Sr offrs but very few are ready to practice the same on ground especially when it is likely to come to the adverse notice of their IO / RO
Having studied at a Army public school & later in AFMC [pune ] I have observed that the discipline & the calibre of the Officer cadre of the Army has deteriorated considerably..My classmates & schoolmates used to be very enthusiastic about joining NDA & IMA & would give first preference to Arms [ Armoured & Infantry ]. The toppers in NDA got Armoured, Infantry & Artillery while the bottom rung got the Services-viz Army Supply corps, Ordnance etc. Today Cadets in NDA are giving First choice to Army Supply corps & ordnance where they can make money.The result is that second rung officers are given Command of Battalions & regiments.Even the Flag officers are not of good standard.
I do not agree with you. One can not divide officers in first rung or second rung. Be any where in merit, a officer can only be either good / human or bad/ inhuman. And a good or bad officer will remain same even if he becomes a Flag Officer. So second rung officers going to fighting arms is not the reason of deteriorating discipline and discontentment in army
if first rung was applying for services it suggests that there is a deterioration in the society towards the pattern of living then why blame the army. isnt it just the reflection of what the society is today
Policy of holding No 3 SB in 14-15 yr service bracket needs to be reviewed in light of following observations:-
(a) Hundreds of overlooked but experienced officers in the service bracket of 15-20 yrs of service are left out of their units, both during peace and war.
(b) By holding this board in the 19-20 yr service bracket the IA will retain several hundred experienced offrs in the units and will mitigate the problem of offrs shortage to a considerable extent.
sad to hear losing men in suicides and fighting their officers
i personally feel it is the higher standard of jawans now and the low standard of officers which is the root cause of this
the JCOs are treated as PBORs and not as distinct category as earlier and sos there is no charm of being a JCO anymore for a jawan and he heads home after serving his time – i suggest that JCOs be given military pay of 4000 which is 2000 for soldiers and 6000 for officers
today there are so many engg and other institutes and best school talent is not interested to join army (but pursue academics) i discussed this point with a officer he said there is no such problem as they are getting youngsters to join army in NDA and other such entries – i strongly feel he is wrong – as i feel the best is not competing or the existing applicants are far less to make competition worth the selection as it should be and merely being able to fill the quota of vacancies is no reason to say this – the issue i want to raise is what is being done to raise the number of applicants for the for jobs – also written exams not required for some entries at 12 class entry is another reason for this decline in talent in officer class
he however he did admit that the they are unable to fill the job quota at graduate level through various schemes of entry that is the main shortfall
it needs to be inquired what he is saying as he is not corrupt officer but what i say is the real thing – the calibre of officers has come down drastically and the calibre of officers has gone up in same way
also today’s officer is career officer not soldier – so this change is not good for the army – physical standard of officers is also poor compared to jawans – a big setback for officers and what are selectors doing ? there is something amiss hope it is corrected well in time and not SHIT – Some How In Time
i could be wrong or have incomplete information and would like to be corrected in that case