What did a Parliamentary Standing Committee say on the issue of ‘Sahayaks’ in the Army?

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The debate on the ‘Sahayak’ system is back at the center stage after allegations of harrasment by an army jawan in a video that went viral on social media. The parliamentary standing committee on defence had recommended abolition of the ‘Sahayak’ system in 2008.  

A video by an army jawan went viral recently in which he alleged harassment by superiors and also said that jawans who act as sahayaks, should not be made to polish shoes of officers. The Army chief reiterated that the sahayak system is more like a buddy system and during peace locations, the sahayaks can be civilians. As the debate on the necessity of this system is on, we look back at what a parliamentary standing committee had said in 2008.

Parliamentary Standing Committee recommends abolition of the ‘Sahayak’ System

The parliamentary standing committee on Defence submitted its 31st report during the 14th Lok Sabha on the issue of ‘Stress Management in Armed Forces’ in 2008. In response to the standing committee’s query on deployment of lower rank jawans as sahayaks, the Ministry of Defence in a written note said that Sahayaks are authorized to Officers and Junior Commissioned Officers in the Army when serving with units or Headquarters functioning on War Establishment. The scale of authorization of Sahayak is the following

  • One for every field officer and above.
  • One for every two officers of the rank of captain and below
  • One for every subedar major
  • One for every two Junior Commissioned Officers of the rank of subedar and below.

The following duties are assigned to sahayaks as per the ministry’s response.

  • To provide personal protection and security.
  • To attend telephones, receive and deliver messages during operations, training and exercise and in peace.
  • To maintain weapons, uniforms and equipment of Officers/Junior Commissioned Officers in accordance with custom and usage in the Army.
  • To assist in digging trenches, erect bivouacs and shelters during war, training or exercise while the leaders are more busy in  planning, coordination and execution of operations.
  • To be of assistance during patrols and independent missions.
  • To carry and operate radio sets, maps and other military equipment during operations, training cadres and outdoor exercises.

The Ministry also said that there is no such system of Sahayaks in the Navy and Air Force.

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The committee in its report noted the interaction with jawans has brought to light, the practice of some of the soldiers being deployed to work as Sahayaks with the families of the officers.

The committee in its reported mentioned that several instances had come to their notice where soldiers have been seen to be deployed at the residence of officers. To this, the representative of the army said the following.“Would have been attending the work at home due to reverence. He is not supposed to do it technically. He is not supposed to work in the house.”

The Committee noted that the jawans are recruited for serving the nation and not to serve the family members of officers in household work which is demeaning and humiliating. The Committee took a very serious view of the shameful practice which  it felt should have no place in independent India. Based on these findings, the committee recommended the abolition of the sahayak system in the Army and also recommended that the Ministry of Home Affairs take similar steps in para military and other organizations.

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Government refuses and the committee reiterates its recommendation

In its fourth report of the 15th Lok Sabha, the parliamentary standing committee on defence submitted the action taken report on its previous recommendations. In response to the committee’s recommendation on the abolition of the sahayak system, the Ministry of Defence, in the action taken reply merely stated the various instructions issued about the sahayak system and that the system should not be misused to employ sahayaks in menial house-hold work. But it refused to accept the recommendation of the committee.

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The committee in its action taken report noted that it was not able to understand the necessity of having the services of Sahayaks by the Army officers particularly when the sister services i.e., Navy and Air Force have abandoned this practice. While reiterating their earlier recommendation, the Committee recommended that Army should follow the examples set by their counterparts Air force and Navy and stop the colonial practice with immediate effect.

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