It started with a video posted online by Tej Bahadur Yadav, a Border Security Force (BSF) soldier in India deployed along the Indo-Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir.
He alleged that his senior officials misused government resources and the troops were served bad quality food and even went without meals at times.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh took notice:
I have seen a video regarding a BSF jawan's plight. I have asked the HS to immediately seek a report from the BSF & take appropriate action.— Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) January 9, 2017
The BSF responded:
BSF is highly sensitive to the welfare of tps.Individual aberrations,if any,are enquired into.A senior officer has already rchd the location https://t.co/3fH7qZdV5P— BSF (@BSF_India) January 9, 2017
A BSF inspector general in Jammu, D K Upadhyay, countered saying Yadav was sent for duty at the Line of control only on Dec. 28 as many soldiers were on leave and hadn't done any field duty for the last four years.
Upadhyay further stated that he should have come directly to him instead of going online.
Hardly a few days after Yadav's video, there was another one, this one by Constable Jeet Singh of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
He lamented about discrimination and differences in facilities provided to army men and those of the paramilitary forces.
He wanted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to know how the paramilitary officers get salaries and benefits even lesser than that of government teachers.
Singh said paramilitary soldiers weren't even entitled to pensions and ex-servicemen quotas unlike their Indian army counterparts.
Officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs said they were trying to verify the authenticity of Singh's video.
CRPF authorities, on the other hand, say that the constable has only “voiced his aspirations” for the force, not complained about any organization.
“He raised issues that are already being discussed. We had taken them up with the 7th Pay Commission,” said Director General Durga Prasad.
Then there was another BSF soldier (unnamed) who wrote a nine-page letter to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh alleging extremely long duty hours and inadequate food and clothing.
“We get only 30 percent of clothing items on time,” he wrote, adding that they are made to do 20 hours of duty instead of eight hours as per the rules.
Raising a voice against the army can backfire though for both the soldiers. Disciplinary action can be taken against them.
As it is, the paramilitary force has used press conferences and statements to besmirch Yadav's reputation, talking about past misdemeanors and discipline issues.
“Constable Tej Bahadur as an individual has a difficult past. From initial days of his career, he needed regular counseling. Different correction mechanics have been applied for the individual’s welfare as he was habitual offender of absenteeism without permission, chronic alcoholism, misbehaving and using force with superior officers and certain other acts against good order and discipline. For such reasons, individual has served mostly in headquarters under supervision of some dedicated superior officer,” they say.
“Instead of addressing the issues raised by the jawan (soldier), the BSF is trying to paint him into a bad hat by pointing to negative things. His complaints need to be properly enquired into. That’s what the force should be focusing on,” says former BSF chief, EN Ram Mohan.
Indian paramilitary forces come under the direct supervision of Ministry of Home Affairs as unlike the Army, Navy and Air Force, which come under the Ministry of Defense.
They are deployed to combat insurgency and border intrusion, check communal riots, guard industrial installations to ensure free and fair elections, protect VIPs and assist civil administration in the event of a natural calamity.
However, they somehow do not rank as high in esteem as their brethren of armed forces.
"We as a nation are quick to recognize the sacrifices and tribulations faced by the soldiers of the Indian Army, but often do not pay as much attention to the condition of paramilitary forces, whose role has increased over the past three decades," writes SD Shibulal, co-founder of Infosys and managing trustee of the Sarojini Damodaran Foundation, for the Hindustan Times.
Apparently, the government isn't much different from the people. As Shibulal goes on to write, "Their work (paramilitary forces) and ethos are similar to the army’s but their pension and retirement benefits are comparable with central government’s civil employees. They miss out on the benefits that defense personnel get."
Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters