Army Chief Says Complaining On Social Media Could Invite Punishment - Is This Right?
Last week, a Border Security Force (BSF) soldier alleged in a video that soldiers are served poor quality food. A few days later, a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) constable posted a video complaining about the lack of facilities available to personnel. The BSF and CRPF responded to the videos in turn.
The Army Chief’s response
Army Chief General Bipin Rawat addressed the issue during his first press conference, on 13 January 2017.
He said, “Through the media, I wish to reach out to the rank and file of the Army. Whatever complaint they should have, they can address it through the excellent grievance redressal mechanism we have. Anyone irrespective of rank and service can reach out to me directly. We want them to come directly to us rather than through social media … This press conference, which is held on the eve of the Army Day, is very relevant to us, as I would like to reach every jawan through you (media). We are one team and we work as one force to ensure India is secure and peaceful.”
The General said a grievance box would be placed near all units for complaints similar to Tej Bahadur’s. He added that the identity of the soldier will be protected when the case investigation is in progress, and once it is resolved, the name will be deleted. He also warned that anyone taking to social media will be held guilty of bringing down the morale of the jawans and could invite punishment.
In a series of viral videos, BSF (29th battalion Seema Suraksha Bal) Tej Bahadur Yadav exposed the conditions our soldiers have to deal with every day due to the apathy of authorities higher up the chain of command. Underfed and ill-treated, Tej Bahadur revealed the unfair treatment meted out to them by their seniors.
The BSF’s response
In response to the videos, the BSF said that Tej Bahadur’s claims couldn’t be taken seriously as he has had a “difficult past” and that he needed regular counselling.
“Different correction mechanics have been applied as he was a habitual offender of absenteeism without permission, chronic alcoholism, misbehaving and using force with superior officers and certain other acts against good order and discipline,” the BSF said in a statement. The BSF also ordered a “fair and transparent” probe.
Following Tej Bahadur’s viral videos, CRPF constable Jeet Singh posted a video message on social media complaining about the lack of facilities available to CRPF personnel. In the video, Singh says despite the fact that CRPF does a commendable job in offering security to government and business establishments, and VIPs, as well as conducting poll duty, the CRPF faces more discrimination than the personnel employed by the Indian Army.
In response to Jeet Singh’s video, CRPF Director General Durga Prasad told CNN News18, “This will lead to a very bad trend. Suppose I dismiss somebody or take action, that person will use social media to create pressure on us and a wrong picture will go to the public. I request media from desisting promotion of such tactics”.
The Logical Indian’s take
As The Logical Indian highlighted before, there have been instances where our Forces were found under-equipped. Less than six months ago, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India criticised the Army management for not providing enough fruits and vegetables for our soldiers. The report by the CAG also pointed to the very low level of troop satisfaction regarding the quantity, quality and the taste of ration, including low quality of meat and fresh vegetables.
Former Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju criticised General Rawat’s statements. He questioned the efficiency of the General’s suggestions. “If the army belongs to the people,” he said, “and if the people are supreme, as I believe they are, then are the people not entitled to know the conditions and welfare of soldiers? After all, soldiers and even the army chief get salaries out of the taxes people pay … How else will people know about the conditions of soldiers except through the media? The media acts as an agent of the people.”
Accepting that there is a problem is the first step to solving it. The precedence set by the Army Chief and the CRPF Director General is counterproductive. It stifles the soldiers’ voice and can lead to them self-censoring their grievances in fear of official retaliation. We should encourage an atmosphere of transparency rather than an atmosphere of secrecy.