NEW DELHI: Contrary to recent social outrage by jawans against the ‘Buddy’ system in the army, Ministry of defence on Tuesday defended the British-era system by saying it promotes spirit de corps. However, “exhaustive” instructions were issued to ensure that the ‘sahayaks’ are not made to do menial tasks as they are combatant soldiers, the government clarified on any misuse of system.
Recently, several jawans from Army and para-military forces have come out in public by posting their grievance on social media against ill treatment of combatants by officers, forcing them to do petty jobs.
The issue of ‘sahayak’ system, a legacy of colonial British regime, has cropped up from time to time with even a Parliamentary panel slamming the government for not doing away with it. At present there are more than 30,000 ‘sahayaks.’ The Navy and IAF do not have ‘sahayaks.’
‘The rapport between officers and the buddies has led to enhancement of the spirit-de-corps in a unit, which is vital during war and peace. As such, this is not expected to have any adverse impact on their morale,”junior minister for defence Subhash Bhamre told the Rajya Sabha in response to a question on Sahayak system.
Making the government’s stand clear, Minister of State for defence S Bhamre in a written reply said ‘sahayaks’ are combatant soldiers and provide support to officers and Junior Commissioned Officers(JCO) when serving with units or Headquarters functioning. Thus, there is no separate category of ‘sahayaks,’ he said.
A ‘sahayak’ has clearly defined military duties and forms an integral part of the organisation structure of a unit and has specific functions during war and peace. In addition to their duties as soldier, they provide the essential support to authorized officers and JCOs, both in peace and war to enable them to fully attend to their assigned duties. The buddy also provides an alternate contact with the troops, whereby the officer is made aware of grass root issues, albeit through informal means, the minister said.
During operations in the field areas, Officers and the ‘sahayak’ act as buddies in arms. One covers the movement of the other buddy and protects him in operation where support has to be total i.e. mental, physical and moral, he said. The rapport between officers and buddies has led to enhancement of “spirit de corps” in a unit, which is vital during war and peace, Bhamre said.
However, “exhaustive” instructions were issued from time to time stressing upon the need to ensure that ‘sahayaks’ are not made to do menial tasks, being combatant soldiers, which are not in conformity with the dignity and self-respect of a soldier, he said.
Faced with criticism for continuing with the ‘sahayak’ system, the Army proposed to the government that the system can be done away with in the peace areas but it should continue in the field and operational areas.
Even the army Chief General Bipin Rawat in January announced setting up of a post box at the Army Headquarters here and in all the command centres. The aggrieved soldier can write directly to the Army Chief about his problems and Rawat assured the personnel that the senior leadership will never let down their juniors.
However, he cautioned that those soldiers taking to social media may face disciplinary action and said social media can act as a “double-edged” weapon wherein it may be beneficial but also can prove to be detrimental.