The recommendation made by an Army court of inquiry to impose wholesale disciplinary action against 168 personnel involved in violent clashes at a training camp should serve as an eye-opener for the Indian armed forces. What happened in May 2012 was a virtual free-for-all by personnel of the Ladakh-based 226 Field Regiment. In fact, there have been at least four such alarming breaches of discipline in the Army in recent times. Such a failure of the command and control structure warrants a review of training and operational aspects. While the Army can be justifiably proud of its apolitical, secular and disciplined ethos, better rapport and cohesion among different levels seem to be a crying need. This will require a training regime that factors in changing values and rising career aspirations and expectations of the members of a modern army. Measures to inculcate a new level of sensitisation will need to go hand in hand with this to remove any trust deficit among the different “classes” in the force. There should be a premium on morale in the forces. Significantly, a study on the high suicide rate in the Army by the Defence Institute of Psychological Research held last year that “perceived humiliation and harassment” at the hands of superiors often served as the final “trigger” for jawans to take their own lives. The demands and pressures faced by the officers should also be taken into account.
In the specific context of the Ladakh incidents, the continuance of the colonial-era institution of the sahayak, or valet, has a particular resonance. It was one of these sahayaks, Sepoy Suman Ghosh, who was thrashed by some officers for complaining about the behaviour of the wife of a Major at the camp. Although the Army announced last year that it was considering doing away with the system, thousands of enlisted men continue to serve as sahayaks, ensuring that the creases on the officers’ uniforms are sharp enough and their epaulets shine through. They take children to school and help with Army wives’ domestic and shopping chores. The system was long abandoned in the British Army. Understandably, this remains a cause of unhappiness for men enlisted to serve the country. The degree of professionalism that is required of a modern army to meet heightened challenges needs to be recognised across the ranks. The officer should lead from the front, and the soldier should be able to hold his or her head high. “My priority would be to … strengthen [the] Army's work culture and core values,” Lt Gen Bikram Singh said ahead of assuming office as the Chief of the Army Staff just a few weeks after the Ladakh incidents. It seems he has his task cut out for him.