Discrimination law suit lowering Indian army’s morale

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  • As if things weren’t bad enough already

The 1.1 million strong Indian army aspiring to be a world power has received a major setback in the form of a lawsuit by over 100 officers claiming discrimination in promotion. On the one hand India is acquiring weapons of mass destruction and is developing a huge arsenal of non-conventional and conventional weapons while on the other, its manpower is suffering from acute cases of depression, low morale and diminutive self-esteem. Factors contributing to this alarming state of affairs in its soldiers are varied but are a cause of serious worry to the Indian defence planners. Resultantly, the instances of suicide, desertion, murder, rape and fragging have risen to frightening proportions. By one count, four times as many soldiers die by their own hand as those killed in combat. In the past 10 years, more than 1,000 Indian soldiers have committed suicide, while another 73 have died of “fragging,” a Vietnam War term born of the practice of disaffected US enlisted men killing their superiors with fragmentation grenades.

Statistical evidence of suicides and fragging in the Indian army points to growing levels of frustration among the jawans. Specialists have pointed out that there is a gap between Indian soldiers and officers with respect to treatment in service and the soldiers blame officers for discrimination and injustice. They opine that attitude of army officers is the main cause of increasing suicide incidents of soldiers in Indian army. Soldiers commit suicide because of the mental torture by their senior officers. As many as about 700 military personnel committed suicide between 2009 and 2014; there have been 69 cases of suicide in the Indian army in 2015 besides an incident of fratricide. The reasons for such incidents include prolonged occupational hazards, family issues, domestic problems, perceived grievances, personal issues, financial problems and inability to withstand stress. Such incidents take place because of t misbehaviour with army soldiers by their officers.

In fact, the Indian army is losing more soldiers to these incidents than in action against the enemy. The army has lost 72 soldiers to alleged enemy attacks so far this year. But over 100 soldiers have already taken their lives. In addition, another 32 have been killed by their colleagues. The Indian army is clearly under tremendous stress. Though it has not fought a full-blown war in decades, the force is bogged down in fighting domestic insurgencies, guarding restive borders and sometimes quelling civilian rioting. Most experts attribute the growing stress to low morale, bad service conditions, lack of adequate home leave, unattractive pay and a communication gap with superiors.

Without questioning the SC’s February 15 decision, the petitioners said they were challenging the selective treatment of services corps officers as ‘operational’

The Indian army is involved in a long running internal security environment of its own creation. There is lack of rest and they get very little leave. Lack of leave increases stress. Soldiers get angry when they are denied leave and their officers themselves take time off. It triggers a reaction; they are well armed and take their own lives. Then there is the question of low pay – starting salaries in many jobs in middle—class India are double that of a new soldier, and for many of them the army no longer holds out the promise of a good life.

A major source of frustration in the Indian army is frayed nerves, which is bringing disconcert to its leadership. Soldiers kill each other when one of them perceives that they are being harassed by superiors or when they have heated arguments among themselves. The induction of women in the Indian army has also led to serious problems. Many officers and men vent their frustration by raping the women personnel. Instead of reporting the incident, many females commit suicide because of the trauma and fear of bringing shame to their families. Deploying the Indian army to quell disturbances, especially in Indian Occupied Kashmir, has had a big toll on the nerves of the uniformed personnel. Killing and maiming young unarmed protesting Kashmiris, blinding them with pellet guns and training their guns on women and old men leaves big scars of trauma on the Indian soldiers.

In the latest instance, which came within the first hundred days of being sworn in as India’s Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman faced the new challenge of over 100 lieutenant colonels and majors of the Indian army moving the Supreme Court over alleged “discrimination and injustice” in promotion of officers of the services corps.

The petitioners claim that by discriminating in the promotion of the services corps officers vis-à-vis combat arms, Indian army and Union government has created tremendous injustice to them and others which is detrimental to the morale of the officers and, in turn, to the defence of the country.

In a joint petition, led by Lieutenant Colonel PK Choudhary, the plaintiff submitted that services corps officers were deployed in operational areas and faced challenges similar to officers of combat arms corps. Yet in a display of bias, the officers of services corps were deprived of promotional avenues available to officers of combat arms.

Indian media believes the petitioners’ plea not to deploy services corps in operational areas along with the combat arms if parity in promotion is not granted should be source of serious concern for the government.

The submitted petition states that “The action of the army and the Indian government in selectively treating officers of services corps as ‘operational’ for the purpose of deployment in operational areas but ‘non-operational’ for the purpose of being considered for promotion is violating the fundamental rights of the petitioners and other middle level army officers.”

On February 15, 2016, the Supreme Court (SC) had resolved an earlier petition by services corps officers complaining of meager allocation of colonel posts for promotion. It was done with the help of a report by the Ajay Vikram Singh Committee, which was tasked post-Kargil war to reduce the age of commanders of battalions and brigades.

Without questioning the SC’s February 15 decision, the petitioners said they were challenging the selective treatment of services corps officers as ‘operational’ when the need arose and relegating them to ‘non-operational’ when it concerned promotions.

“The petitioners also wish to draw attention of the Supreme Court that the sacrifices of officers of services corps are at par, if not more, with officers of combat arms corps in the Indian army,” they said.

In the near past, another serious factor contributing to the distress of Indian army is the realisation that false flag operations are taking a big toll on lives. The Mumbai attack, the Pathankot incident and the Uri assault left scores of Indians dead. Facing a faceless enemy is in itself devastating for the nerves but the shock of discovering that the assault was orchestrated by their own forces is tremendous. Many Indian soldiers consider this to be a stab in the back and are ready to rebel at this startling disclosure. The recent claim of Indian army’s “surgical strikes” against purported targets in Azad Jammu Kashmir has also infuriated Indian army personnel. Those privy to the fact that the claims are false are irate at the ignominy of the extent of lies being told to Indian masses.

If India does not stem the rot, it is likely to face serious consequences.

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