Armed forces

Media Must Be Wary of Overplaying Grievances Within the Military

Generalising a few complaints to indicate larger problems in the service tarnishes the image of the entire military force.

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Overplaying the few incidents of grievances only damages the reputation of the entire force. Credit: Reuters

A few videos recently emerged on news channels of jawans belonging to various Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and the army spelling out complaints of varying nature.

In one case, it was the lack of equality of the CAPF with the army, in another it was the allegations poor rations being given to jawans and in the case of the army jawan, it was the performance of duties which he felt were not as per his charter and an insult to the soldier.

The news channels were quick to grab these stories as they were a departure from the routine ongoing political battles and made for good TRP. The manner in which the panel discussions were subsequently conducted was degrading to these organisations which have served the nation through thick and thin.

Both the CAPF and the army have a large serving community. Added to this is the strength of those who have retired and are aware of the working norms and also of the rules and regulations. The retired can more openly voice their opinion as they are no longer affected or controlled by the diktat of the service.

The combined figures of those serving and retired would run into crores. Yet, there have been only a few open complaints. The recent ones could be a result of sheer frustration or personal reasons, most others being redressed by the existing redressal methodology, which in most cases is fairly efficient.

In the present instance, one video from each service has emerged. A few more may emerge in the days ahead. Does this minuscule figure from such a large community genuinely present a true picture of the service and warrant such intense media scrutiny or is the media desperate for high TRPs?

It is in no way being stated that the complaints are false or a figment of the imagination. They may be true, after all, we are looking at many battalions or establishments, spread over vast areas, with varying responsibilities and in most cases, difficult terrain.

Each complaint is specific to a particular unit or establishment. They cannot be considered generalised as these men would have normally served in just one or two units in their entire service. These units could be aberrations. However, generalising it to indicate a complete force amounts to tarnishing the image of a service, without the possession of depth of knowledge of the subject.

In large organisations, there are always individuals who take advantage of the existing system for their own benefits, financial or otherwise. Some have mala fide intentions and resort to making a quick buck without respecting those under command.

However, they are always in a minority. In most uniformed services, which are manpower intensive and perform sensitive tasks like the CAPF and the military, the working relationship between various levels is markedly close as juniors and superiors operate together in most difficult life threatening situations.

Hence, such rare reports should be investigated by the service themselves and then clarifications should be given to the media, rather than the media playing the role of the judge and the executioner. After all, it is one report from an army of over one million.

Similarly, in most organisations, everything cannot be to the utmost satisfaction of every individual. Hence, there would always be those who are disappointed or unhappy. It is human nature. Even if efforts are made to provide the best under the existing circumstances, they would always have a reason to complain. Most of us would have met such individuals. They also exist in the military and the CAPF. Once again, they remain a minority, as the small number of the videos have proved.

Hence, overplaying the incident is only damaging the reputation and hard work of the balance members of the force who continue to function for the security of the nation.

The army, in specific, is very rank and seniority conscious. As individuals rise in service, their desire to monitor the well-being of subordinates becomes more pronounced as contact with them recedes. Therefore, to obtain correct feedback, varying methods are employed.

Apart from open interactions, there are feedback and grievance settling mechanisms. Even anonymous complaints are not ignored, rather investigated. This enhances the confidence level as the jawan knows that any complaint which they have is being investigated.

Hence, any claim of complaints being ignored will be an untruthful statement. Insulting subordinates is the primary cause of fratricide, which every armed service is desperate to avoid, hence complaints are immediately investigated.

In today’s environment, every jawan has the contact number of all his superiors. He is at liberty to call and speak to them. As an officer, I may not have time for other officers, but always for the jawan. He is the backbone of the military and would remain so. Therefore, making contrary statements in the media is conveying a wrong message to the nation and is an insult to the military.

Each service has its traditions and methods of functioning. There are always some who feel that the same is against their stature or nature. However, once an individual joins, he is no longer an individual but a member of the team and should function as one.

Despite regimentation, there are always some who stubbornly stand out. Every task and operation is a team action and hence those who are difficult are ignored and feel the pinch. They hence remain trouble creators and would go to any extent to air their grievances. They are also always in a minority, hence their words must be taken with a pinch of salt.

The media is stretching the buddy system to the other extreme. The soldier and the officer with whom he has served, establish a bond which extends beyond families, beyond time.

My son, who is 33 now, is closer to my ex-buddies than he is to me. He knows each one’s birthday and anniversary and is always in touch. He personally requested each soldier who had been my buddy at any time to attend his marriage. The first call I recieve on my birthday or anniversary is from my buddy. I have attended birthday parties of my buddy’s children. Illness in his family, admission for his kids and planning their future is discussed as if between two brothers. My wife has always invited my buddy’s family home whenever they are in town.

It is a bond stretching beyond a lifetime. Such bonds can never exist in any civil organisation, hence is misinterpreted and wrongly quoted. In operational areas, he is more than a buddy, he is my partner and we cover each other’s back while battling militants, saving one another’s life. A buddy is always someone willing, never enforced. The video was from an establishment where correct norms were not followed, hence it created heartburn.

How many such videos have been received for the media to show as if the Indian army lives in medieval times? The army never has incidents like the police tying the shoe laces of seniors or carrying them on their backs across water obstacle courses. The buddy is a lifetime friend, philosopher and guide and let us accept and treat them as such.

Whether the complaints are genuine or not are meant for investigations to reveal. Whether the individuals are seeking a few minutes of publicity or are genuinely conveying a message, time would judge. However, such minuscule complaining and it being converted into a media hype, with the visual media sitting as judge and executioner, indicates the level to which the media can drop for just plain TRPs.

I hope in the future the media acts more responsibly and stops tarnishing the image of services, which face the brunt in every situation.

Harsha Kakar is a retired army officer and a strategic writer based out of Lucknow. He can be followed on Twitter @kakar_harsha.

  • Chennakeshav Shenoy

    Thank you sir for this article. It puts a lot of things in the right perspective and while we want to honor all the servicemen such as yourself – to jingoistically attack the institutions never sat right with me.