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by Brig (Retd) PT Gangadharan
The personnel of Armed Forces are enrolled from our society purely on a volunteer basis, without any distinction in class, colour, creed, cast and religion. The Armed Forces are also open to women in certain select categories; the only exception in this case hitherto was the Army Medical Corps. .. It is emphasized that there are no reservations of any kind in the Armed Forces and all selections are based on merit. In every sense, the Armed Forces are an all India service and a true depiction of national honor, pride and unity.
2. It is a service based on rank and status, and follows a pyramidal structure. By virtue of the service requirements, there are certain restrictions with regard to the fundamental rights, like freedom of expression, movement etc.The services are divided into three branches viz:-Army,Navy and Air Force, in that order of seniority. Out of these, the Army is the largest, then the Air Force and lastly the Navy. All the three services have their own roles and responsibilities. They also have their own customs and traditions. The roles of Armed Forces are to protect the country against external threats, safe guard internal security and assist in natural calamities, in that order. This article focuses mainly on the issues of the Army. The frequent use of Armed Forces for internal duties is not in the interest of the country and the Armed Forces themselves. This issue needs to be deliberated separately.
3. Structurally, all the three services have the officers’ cadre, and the other ranks. The officers are Group A service like the IAS, IPS, IRS, IFS etc with relative rank and status. All officers are gazetted in status and are called Commissioned Officers. In the Army, the other ranks are further divided into JCOs (Junior Commissioned Officers) and Other Ranks. The JCOs are Group B officers with Gazetted status. In the Navy and Air Force, also, there are equivalent ranks in the case of JCOs but they do not have gazetted status, with restrictions on certain privileges enjoyed by their Army counter parts. This is purely a functional requirement.
The Structure of Forces
4. In all the three services they are further divided into fighting arms, supporting arms and supporting services. The supporting arms and services are in support of the fighting arms and therefore logically the over all command and control responsibility rest with the commanders of the fighting arms; others being responsible for their own arms and services. The commanders of supporting arms and services are advisors to the fighting arm commanders at various levels. In the case of Army, the fighting Arms are the Infantry, Mechanised infantry, and the Armoured Corps. The supporting Arms are the Artillery, Engineers, Signals, and Intelligence Corps etc. The main supporting services are the EME (Electrical and Mechanical Engineers), AMC (Army Medical Corps), AOC (Army Ordnance Corps), ASC (Army Supply Corps), and (APS) Army Postal Services.
5. In the Air Force, the fighting elements are the fighter pilots, supported by the Engineering Branch and Administrative Branches etc. Similarly, in the Navy also the Executive Branch is the command component, supported by Technical and Logistics Branches etc. The fighting elements remain the teeth and others are the tail elements. The over all command and control rest with the Fighting Arms and the commanders are known as the General Cadre Officers.
Alienation of Armed Forces
6. The personnel of Armed Forces are not aliens as they are very much a part of our society. However generally they are viewed as strangers and species of a different nature. This alienation is the result of the closed-door policy hitherto, followed by the defence forces, in the garb of secrecy and the lack of inquisitiveness on the part of the society. The society is not exercising their right to know about their brethren in uniform. There is very little awareness on the role of Armed Forces, particularly in South, which have never witnessed an armed aggression so far, accompanied by the ravages of war. While secrecy about operational plans cannot be compromised, but other aspects like service conditions, role of Armed Forces in nation building and national integration, peculiar needs of our Armed Forces, expectations from the society and of the society etc are within the realm of knowable information. The percolation of such information will remove cobwebs from many grey areas and the society will function as the watchdog to protect the interest of Armed Forces. The society forgets that yesterdays students are today’s soldiers and today’s soldiers are tomorrows civilians; forming part of the same society. The cycle continues perpetually.
An Overview of Service Conditions
7. Comparison with Para Military Forces. The service in the Armed Forces cannot be likened to any other forces, including Para Military Forces. There is a general belief that the BSF (Border Security Force) is always deployed in the border and the Army stays at the back. This is due to lack of knowledge on the functioning of forces. The Army is always at the forefront, and the Para Military Forces are always in support, as they form the second echelon of forces. The Para Military Forces are also never employed in offensive roles. Even in counter insurgency operations, the most difficult task is assigned to the Armed Forces, however due to peculiarities of police role and to keep the Armed Forces away from civilians’ population, the BSF, CRPF, ITBP (Indo Tibetan Border Police); State Armed Constabulary etc are generally deployed in towns and cities.
8. Difficult Life. The Armed Forces in all its manifestations are an all India Service wherein a man moves to any part of the country when ordered. The personnel lead the most difficult life, physically and mentally. He operates from plus 50 Deg to minus 50 deg Celsius and(MSL)i.e.; 0-18000ft height in varying terrains like deserts, border areas, high altitude areas, uncongenial areas, jungle terrain, snow bound areas, glacial terrain and the plains like Punjab. Can you visualize a soldier spending months together in a small trench, totally isolated from the out side world to guard your frontiers, with no holidays or break, so that you sleep comfortably in your home. Will it be possible for any civilian to empathize with a soldier serving in Siachen Glacier, who is never sure whether he will get up from sleep in the morning or will be found in the deep crevice to be frozen for life? A soldier is under constant threat to his life due to vagaries of weather and enemy actions. The physical and mental stress forces him to take his own life at times. There are numerous cases of schizophrenia (mental disorder) in the Army. Can you ever compensate his sacrifice, in monetary terms? How many of us are willing to stay for a day in Siachen glacier, even if one is paid a thousand rupees a day?
9. Strict Discipline. The personnel of the Armed Forces remain under a strict disciplinary code, forgoing certain fundamental rights and freedom available to other citizens. The punishment is very severe in the Armed Forces even for seemingly minor offences. There is no freedom of speech and there are no Unions in the Armed Forces. There is restriction on free movement and the orders of superior officer are obeyed implicitly. Any infringement in the orders will invite severe punishment. The military has its own court and redress mechanisms and the disposal of cases are speedy.
10. Continuous Training. During peacetime, the Armed Forces are constantly under rigorous training. Every technological development results in change of weapons and equipment and consequently the method of warfare. There is no other profession where a person is continuously under training. In the present day, because of counter insurgency operations a large quantum of troops is operationally commited, hence not available for training, for their primary role of protecting the country from external threat. This is one of the reasons, why the Army always brings out the adverse effect of deploying troops for Internal Security duties. This also affects the fighting psychology of a soldier, adversely. Therefore, the deployment of troops for every issue must be ruthlessly curbed. The Armed Forces personnel also attend various training courses in different schools of instructions to hone their skills from time to time. Every individual is required to pass various promotion examinations, for attaining the next rank, as promotions are through a strict selection, based on merit. The pyramidal structure of the Armed Forces limits the number of promotions, even though a person may be qualified otherwise. It takes very long to attain higher ranks in the Armed Forces, as compared to civil, due to the pyramidal structure and limited number of vacancies for each rank. Since all ranks are command based, proliferation cannot take place in rank structure, unlike their counter parts in civil.
11. Living Conditions. The Armed Forces personnel, particularly of the Army, live a disturbed life. Often they are separated from their families, as mostly they are deployed in non-family stations (Field Areas).When ever they get an opportunity to serve in peace areas, there is acute shortage of accommodation. Men live in all sorts of accommodation from self-help to authorized scale. Here again there is a misnomer that they get accommodation where ever they go; an impression created by the Armed Forces personnel by their loose talk. Since most of the major training activities are carried out in peace stations, the troops remain away up to six months in a year in training locations, separated from their families. The children and the families suffer the most. There is limited family life in the Armed Forces, particularly in the Army. Often a person is required to maintain three establishments; self, wife and children and the parents; all located in different locations, which results in additional burden on the available resources. There is also a very high degree of risk to life. In fact, the casualties of a no war situation are many fold the actual war. There is a high attrition rate in the Army, particularly among the fighting arms. The living conditions of soldiers are not to be judged based on the quality of life in few good Military Stations, such as Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore etc or of their brethren in the Navy and Air Force. The Navy and Air Force personnel are mostly deployed in permanent peace stations based on operational requirements.
12. Young Profile of Armed Forces. The personnel of Armed Forces have to remain young to be able to fight a battle. They retire generally between the ages of 35 to 50, except a few senior officers whose age of retirement is 52-60, related to each rank. More than 90% officers retire at 54 years (Lt Colonels) and other ranks at 35 years. It implies that with the increasing family responsibility, the income diminishes. This forces each one to look for a second career.Unfortunately, in states as Kerala, the political leadership and bureaucracy have very little comprehension of the intricacy of service life. This lack of exposure, adversely affects the filling up the reserved vacancies for Ex Servicemen, in Govt services. They consider the Ex-servicemen and their rehabilitation as the burden of Central Govt.They also perceive that the Ex service members are better placed as compared to their civilian counterparts, due to numerous welfare schemes of the Armed Forces. The Ex-servicemen also are snobbish at times and boast about their services, to hide inherent weaknesses in their organization. In any case, they do not constitute to vote bank, for our political leaders to take cognizance of them.
The Armed Forces are a Special Entity
13. Sanctity of the Profession of Arms. The service in Armed Forces is a noble profession, which requires brain and brawn, leadership of a high order and a higher degree of motivation. The comparison of service in Armed Forces to Bureaucrats, Judicial service, Industrial workers, Technocrats, Para Military Forces, Police, and Teachers etc shows the lack of comprehension, of the psyche of soldiering. There is no profession as exacting as soldiering, particularly in today’s environment. There is also no profession where a person takes an oath to lay down his life and remains committed so until the end. He is the sacrificial lamb, ever ready to be sacrificed for your tomorrow. A soldier has to be very competent professionally, skilled in all aspects of warfare, led by able leaders and highly motivated. He is required to perform a complex task, with no parallel. The soldier must remain worriless about his own welfare, the welfare of his family, and the future of his family and children. Therefore, the society has a major role in maintaining the soldiers esteem and high morale and should not remain a silent spectator, by treating the personnel like any ordinary worker, who chose the profession of arms in the normal course, for subsistence. They need to be treated with reverence and with an attitude of gratitude. Our soldiers are the pride of the nation and our history vindicates this fact. In every crisis, they saved the country and its integrity with great loss to themselves.
14. Contribution of Armed Forces towards Nation Building and Productivity. There is a general feeling and belief that the Armed Forces are non productive, do not contribute towards the development of the state and on the contrary blow up a large chunk of tax payers money in unwanted training, acquiring destructive weapons and equipment and carrying out unnecessary movement and training. It needs to be understood by all concerned that you cannot raise Armed Forces in a year or two. It takes years to raise a force, capable of defending the country against external threat, and internal disturbances. It needs committed leadership with varying degrees of experience, highly motivated troops, state of the arts weapons and equipment, realistic and continuous training, and effective state support for the force to be capable of performing their roles. You cannot create a battalion commander in a year or even in10 years. A non professional finds it difficult to comprehend, the intricacies of force structure. In the history of nations, no country has ever progressed without the capability of defending the nation and its borders. This is one of the reasons that our erstwhile Kings themselves led the Armed Forces in battles. Our history is replete with examples of various kingdoms and battles fought by them. It is customary for princes in certain nations, to serve in the Armed Forces before they become kings or take up other assignments. The progress of the country is directly proportional to the might of the Armed Forces. This axiom is vindicated by history. Therefore, the contribution of the Armed Forces in the development of the country is immeasurable. It is for the country, and in turn for the leadership to decide as to what type of forces it wishes to have. Any neglect of the forces will result in irreparable loss of the prestige and image of the nation in the comity of nations. A country ceases to be a sovereign state, without the capability to defend its territorial integrity and internal security. The Armed Forces are a special entity and is an extension of politics of the nation. Hence, no Govt so far has ever changed their policy towards the Armed Forces. In our country the Armed Forces remain apolitical. No nation can ever afford to have an attitude of “take for granted” towards their Armed Forces. Our leaders and fellow citizens should ensure that we do not flog a willing horse, as they are the last dependable organ for safeguarding the integrity of the nation.
Erroneous Views on Soldiering
15. Comparison. Our ignorant society often compares a soldier to a police constable, an unskilled worker, a peon, or even a factory worker, who earns his wage after eight hours of daily work. The society must not play with the sentiments of our soldiers psyche, as he is our only savior, who remains committed for 24 hours, seven days and 365 days a year. Playing with the warrant of precedence of Armed Forces at every possible occasion to lower their status with peers in civil department is detrimental to the interest of the country. All organs of the state must ensure that he has a pride of place in the society and he is treated like a hero. Isolated cases of aberrations by soldiers must not come in the way of forming an opinion and in understanding the soldiers psyche. It is a human psychology that when one is liberated from shackles, he tends to break law. A soldier is always in shackles as regards law and he too is a human being; a product of our own society. In any case, the military law takes care of all breaches of discipline expeditiously and exemplarily.
16. Copying Armed Forces. The badges of ranks, uniform, accoutrements etc of the Armed Forces are being copied with impunity, not only by Para Military forces but also even by civil security elements, run by private agencies. This is an offence punishable under IPC, but the law is seldom enforced. Our educated but ignorant society thus draws comparison with ranks and file in the Armed Forces, based on such aberrations of the society.Though it looks innocuous, from the point of view of a common man, but it does immense damage to the morale and esteem of the soldiers, who form part of the society. When you a treat a soldier like a civil security sentry, he will discharge his duties also in the same way. Is it acceptable to the country? Can his morale be built up to give the ultimate sacrifice by such treatment? We are playing with the psyche of our soldiers to the detriment of our National interest, inadvertently. It is reiterated that it is very difficult for a non professional, to empathize with the soldiers psyche and his behavioral pattern under various situations.
17. Perks and Privileges of Soldiers. There is a general feeling that a soldier saves every penny he gets, as the Govt provides him all necessities like accommodation, food, clothing, medical facilities, childrens’ education, canteen facilities, liquor, travel expenditure and every conceivable essentials. Some of these impressions are the result of the snobbish conduct of our soldiers, while interacting with people in the society. They show to them that their profession is the best. The facilities soldiers get are comparable with all other Govt employees, except may be for liquor, which a soldier is authorized to draw from the canteen as per the scale laid down, on payment. There is an exaggerated projection of these perquisites and privileges. One has to admit that the Armed Forces are well organized in whatever facilities they provide. In monetary terms and over all facilities, a factory worker may be placed well above a soldier. Even, an accident victim gets better compensation; compared to a soldier this days.Travelling is a nightmare to soldiers. It is seldom that they get reservation, with the limited number of seats allotted in each train, except for return journey from annual leave. Even officers cannot plan their journey. A few cases of Air Force or Naval personnels’well planned journey, from well-connected peace stations cannot be compared to a soldier, who serves in far-flung areas and takes various modes of transportation to reach the railhead. One has to experience it to believe it.
18. Pay, Pension and other Emoluments. The ill informed society misunderstands that the Armed Forces personnel are better paid, in terms of pay, pension and emoluments. When the periodic Pay commissions fix the pay, the difficult life, the short duration of service, lack of opportunities for promotion, unduly long period to attain higher ranks as compared to civil profession, the requirement of a second career and the special content of the service are slighted. The comparison is drawn based on length of service, educational qualification, administrative work content and such other factors. The necessity of a young force for operational reasons, forces a man to retire early. A soldier who gave his life finds disadvantaged in every occupation with his peers in civil. There is no one to fight for soldiers and they do not form part of the pay commission. His yeomen services are forgotten by the society and they treat him like any other ordinary Govt servant. You may have a close look at the plight of many soldiers who join civil security set up to make both ends meet, to empathize with them. The medals he wore with pride on his chest have become a curse for him, as the society finds him fit for nothing else, despite his long experience and disciplined life. Besides his professional competence, he is experienced in many subjects and has vast knowledge, to discharge any responsibility. It is only in our country that the military personnel are not assured a suitable second career. A minuscule number of senior officers may find place in some gubernatorial appointments or appointments of that nature. Neither the states nor the central Govt find them useful for appointments as Directors/Chairman/Advisors etc despite their proven capability, years of experience and qualifications. In our country, the civil servants and judicial officers fill such places. Are we fair to our soldiers and officers, who have given their lives in the service of the nation? We copy other developed nations for every thing else. Why do we forget our soldiers, who gave their yesterday for our tomorrow?
Expectations from the Society
19. Department of Ex Servicemen. The Armed Forces have been pleading for a department of Ex-Servicemen in the Central Ministry and similarly there is a need to create a department of ex servicemen with every state Govt.They should coordinate the welfare activities of soldiers and ex-servicemen with certain amount of parity with other states, based on central guidelines. At present, there is wide disparity between states, in their treatment to the soldiers. The Western and Northern states, which have faced the horrors of war, provide better amenities and treat soldiers with reverence they deserve. The ex-Servicemen personnel are a reserve pool of work force, which have lived a disciplined and orderly life. The states can effectively harness their capability for productive work. Every one can be assured a second career with little cost to the state, as they are already trained. Since they are pensioners, the state salary will be correspondingly reduced. The state police force, public sector undertakings, financial institutions, IT sector, PWD, State Electricity Boards, Cooperative Societies etc will find them very useful to render service to the people. In fact, they are trained to be employed in any department, based on their trade and rank in the Armed Forces. Most of the personnel are trained at least in two professions, based on the dual trade system of the Army. Similarly, self-employment can be encouraged by providing easy loans. Their absorption will not adversely affect the unemployment of the state. On the contrary, they will help in creating the desired atmosphere, for investment from outside, thus generating more jobs .A Department of Ex Servicemen, if created would evolve the necessary strategy in effectively harnessing this well disciplined work force, to the advantage of the state. This will also bring better understanding on the functioning of our forces and their psyche. The present day feeling of alienation will disappear gradually.
20. Separate Pay Commission. The difficult life, harsh service conditions, the unparallel conditions of service, early retirement, the unduly long period to attain higher ranks with resultant financial loss as compared to other Group A service and the special content of sacrifice, warrant constitution of a separate pay commission. The Armed Forces are not discharging merely administrative or technical functions, like other Govt employees, but protecting the country and its integrity, at great cost to their lives. It is a service of supreme sacrifice. If the Judiciary can have a separate pay commission, certainly the case of Armed Forces is stronger. Their short duration of service, lack of promotional opportunities, the requirement of a second career, and the responsibilities they shoulder in nation building and national integration cannot be clubbed with other Govt employees. The Govt must reckon the special content of their service and give them preferential treatment as in many other progressive states. The executive organ of the state in this regard must take the decision.
21. Implementation of Existing Provisions. A number of facilities have already been extended by the Govt. The implementation of most of the provisions are with the state Govts .These include, educational concessions, reserved vacancies for employment, compensation for disability and death, loans for self employment and private entrepreneurship, career guidance etc.Since there are no one to guide the Govt on these issues, most of these vacancies go unutilized. In certain cases, the provisions are unrealistic with no benefit to defence personnel. There is a need to frame rules realistically, to enable benefit to maximum number of defence personnel and their dependants. The defence pool of vacancies must go to them without laying further restrictions. This will certainly improve the level of satisfaction of service personnel and their dependents. The defence service officers could also be considered for various senior posts in central and state public sector undertakings, autonomous boards, state sponsored commercial ventures and such like slots, which have remained the exclusive province of civil services so far.
22. Creation of Awareness. A concerted effort must be made by all concerned to educate the society regarding the Armed Forces and their role, including their contribution towards nation building and national integration. It would be possible to include certain lessons in school curriculum as a part of the syllabus. These are non-controvercial subjects. Such subjects will motivate our youth to take up career in the Armed Forces, as a choice and challenge. The present shortage of officers can be made up, by providing the right material. The media can play a positive role in educating people through well-orchestrated programs, some of which can even be sponsored by the Govt.It is imperative that our society understand their brethren in uniform, in entirety. The investment made in this field will benefit all sections.
23. Paying of Homage. At present it is only in Delhi and few other select places, we have war memorials. Thousands of our soldiers have sacrificed their life for the nation. The peace time casualties of J&K from 1989, due to counter insurgency operations and of the North East are many fold the Kargil war casualties of 1999.The powerful media had created a limited military action in Kargil into an all out war, where as OPERATION RAKSHAK which is being waged from 1989 is ignored. Even the learned and educated people are unaware that the war in J&K and North East are continuing, with casualties mounting almost every day.Kerala contributes to the Military strength in a big way. It is time that we have a war memorial in each district and our leaders pay homage to our martyrs on all-important occasions, as in the case of Central Govt.The least the Govt can do is to respect the sacrifice of our departed soldiers who gave their yesterday for our tomorrow. These small gestures will bring a feeling of security and contribute positively towards building up the morale of our soldiers in uniform. Are we asking for too much? Can our political leaders follow the sense of sacrifice of our soldiers whose first responsibility is towards the nation, the second to the people who serve under the leaders and lastly towards themselves.
24. Our Armed Forces are drawn from our society, purely on a voluntarily basis. The society has misplaced perceptions about our forces due to ignorance. There has been very little effort to understand the psyche of soldiering, thus drawing unrealistic comparisons with our soldiers and their civil counterparts. Since there is compartmentalization, the chasm widens. It is time that we understand our soldiers by proper education and treat our soldiers as part of the society. The state Govt and our political leadership must rise above narrow political gains to render all possible facilities to our soldiers, who render yeomen’s service to the nation. This disciplined work force must be harnessed and co- opted in the developmental activities of the state. A common person must be able to understand a soldiers psyche by well-orchestrated and structured program. The state Govt must share its responsibility towards our soldiers and their dependants by extending all facilities. The Armed Forces are a national asset and must be treated with reverence.
- Brig (Retd) PT Gangadharan
Chinmaya Mission Road
(Bio.. I retired from service after rendering 39 years of service to the Nation. My retirement was due to my physical disability. I became a war casualty while commanding an Infantry Brigade on the line of control in the J&K, in 2000.I am a paraplegic and confined to wheel chair for mobility. I have no sensation and movement and also do not have any control on vital systems. I am a native of Kozhikode and now settled at Thondayad. -Gangadharan)