New Delhi, April 11: Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh has recommended banning batmen — or sahayaks — in the force he heads.
His recommendation is favoured by defence minister A.K. Antony who had promised earlier that he did not want to see soldiers functioning as personal servants of officers.
It is little surprise that within the officer cadre of the army, the chief’s reform measure is seen as too radical. The navy and the air force do not have such a system.
But surprisingly for both the chief and the defence minister, the opposition to the recommendation has come not only from within the army but also from the bureaucracy.
Gen. Singh made the recommendation some weeks back. He was echoing observations made by a parliamentary consultative committee that has favoured banning the sahayak system. The Sixth Pay Commission had also asked for disbanding the servant army.
Despite this, Gen. Singh’s recommendation has been questioned because it goes against the “culture of the army” and involves monetary implications. The general suggested raising a civilian cadre to assist officers in their personal work because “the uniform should not be insulted”.
The ministry’s response to the recommendation has been to question the financial burden of such a measure. Bureaucrats in the defence ministry are also assigned batmen from the army.
Nearly 80 per cent of all personnel below officer rank (PBOR) have been deployed as sahayaks — to polish the shoes and maintain the uniform of the officer, take children to school, do the gardening and assist the spouse in running the household — for lengthy periods during their service.
As the officer goes higher up the chain of command, he usually has more batmen serving him and his family.
The sahayaks or batmen are a colonial legacy bequeathed to the Indian Army by the British. The British have done away with the system — having lost the empire, they could scarcely afford it. But it survives in the Indian Army and officers mostly take it as a right and not as a non-essential perquisite.
Its origins go back to the “buddy” system — an officer planning operations or leading a platoon into action was expected to be free of the burdens of carrying loads, such as radio transmitters.