An Army Jawan, Roy Mathew, a 33-year-old gunner who had featured in a sting operation by a news website was found dead under mysterious conditions in an abandoned barrack (accommodation provided to soldiers) in Deolali Cantonment, Maharashtra on Thursday. The sting operation featured soldiers walking dogs of officers and taking their children to the school. The video has been removed from the website.
Roy’s body was completely decomposed, and as per the doctors, he seems to have had died three days ago. It is also being claimed that Roy was mentally disturbed. Roy had served in the Army for 13 years, and he was among the jawans in Deolali seen in the video.
This video caused an uproar against the Sahayak system. The term Sahayak means ‘buddy’ related to the ‘buddy system’ which in army parlance means pairing two soldiers during operations and peacetime postings. This system ensures that the two take care of each other during the war and in peace. It is a colonial system where combat soldiers were treated as orderlies or Sahayaks to maintain the uniforms of the officers, polish their boots. However, there have been several complaints of misuse of this system.
Mathew is also said to have been facing an inquiry after the string operation. But he is claimed to have gone missing since 25 February. The team is probing if Mathew was harassed or tortured while he was attached for buddy duties with a Colonel Rank Officer in Deolali.
As per The Times of India report, a police source said, “Mathew had run away from the unit on 25 February and had remained missing since. He came under huge pressure and was absent without official leave (AWOL) within 24 hours of the video”.
Other sources like the Hindustan Times have reported that Mathew had called his wife on the day he went missing saying he gave an interview to a Marathi channel about the working conditions in the army. And that this was a “big mistake”. Though the channel had promised anonymity, his seniors came to know about it and he had several talks with them. His wife claims that she did not receive any communication from her husband after this phone call. His brother said that they had not received any official information from the army apart from knowledge of his brother’s death.
Debate about the Sahayak System
There are some special needs of defence, army and paramilitary forces. Besides this, soldiers require a lot of other personnel – waiters, cooks, maids, cleaners and sweepers. Clearly, these jobs are of civilian nature, but for logistical and security reasons, recruits cannot be hired from the civilian base on a contractual or temporary basis. Though Sahayak is not a listed trade in the services, these young combatants are given tasks which they have to perform dutifully out of fear that their refusal would prevent being assigned combat duties in future. The added problem is that once the Sahayak is assigned to an officer, he is loaded with domestic chores and the hierarchy and the power structure of army do not allow him to complain.
The House Panel Against Sahayak System
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence in March 2010 examined the practice of Sahayaks and observed that it has been prevalent in the army since British days. The practice continues unabated even though the jawans are not technically supposed to attend to the household duties at the Officer’s residence
The Logical Indian hopes that a fair probe is ordered and conducted and there is clarification regarding Roy Mathew’s death and the allegations of the video.