Peek at army class system, via US eyes - American trainee talks of â€˜pretty differentâ€™ culture of batmen serving officers SUJAN DUTTA Laura Condyles displays her battalionâ€™s shirt in front of Taj Mahal New Delhi, Nov. 1: An American army officerâ€™s account of her time training in Agra has given a glimpse into the class-system in the Indian Army and has stoked once again the debate of assigning sahayaks â€” or batmen â€” who are often required to do personal work of officers. First Lieutenant Laura Condylesâ€™ account, narrated to the US armyâ€™s official publicity wing, suggests she had a grand time during her 52-day course at the Para Training School in Agra in August-September. But the insight it shares â€” that the Indian Army differentiates sharply between officers and soldiers and that it operates with poor infrastructure â€” have made senior officials here take note. There are exceptions to the sahayak rule â€” not all officers ask the batmen to do personal work â€” but that does not shine through in Condylesâ€™ narration. The Indian Armyâ€™s structure â€œis pretty different,â€ the US army official wire release quotes the 25-year-old parachute rigger-qualified officer as saying. â€œWhen you are an officer on post, they cook your meal for you, or they deliver it to your room. They clean your bathroom for you every day. They mop your floors in your room every day. They even make your bed for you every day, and they do your laundry every single day,â€ says Condyles. The observations make Indian Army officers touchy. Former army chief General V.K. Singh had proposed to do away with the sahayak system and replace them with civilians. He had argued it was not proper for professional soldiers to be forced to do such work. A parliamentary standing committee has also recommended the abolition of the system dating back to the British Indian Army. The British have done away with it. But Condyles says that life was difficult in Agra, even with the conveniences. â€œI had electricity about 40 to 50 per cent of the time,â€ she says in the account. The parachute rigger-qualification course trains soldiers in lashing and packaging equipment, including food and hardware, for airdrops. Many of the Indian Armyâ€™s forward posts â€” such as those in Siachen â€” are â€œair-maintainedâ€. Laura Condyles said she was the first foreign officer to qualify with an â€˜Iâ€ grade â€” meaning she showed skills good enough for her to be an instructor. â€œI got it! Iâ€™m the first foreign officer thatâ€™s ever gotten the â€œiâ€ grade before, so that was pretty neat!â€ â€œI loved it! I had a great time,â€ said Condyles. â€œThe cool thing was Iâ€™m the first American that went to the course. They had other foreign officers that went to this course before too, one from Sri Lanka, one from Ethiopia, from Nepal, and Pakistan.â€ The American officer is wrong when she says a Pakistani was also part of the course. The Indian Army has no personnel exchange programme with Pakistan. â€œThey drop live animals,â€ she was quoted. â€œThey put chickens and goats on a platform and drop them in for foodâ€. Condyles said cows would often enter the air force station in Agra and even the hangars in which the equipment was parachute-rigged. Among the rations dropped during the course were bagged items, tent supplies, bottles, hay, medical provisions, fish, meat on hoof, meat dressed, frozen meat, chicken dressed, chicken alive, fruits and vegetables, and fuel, oil and lubricants. â€œAt their motor pools they have temples. So, before you get into a military vehicle and drive away, you have to pray to the gods.â€ Condyles said. Peek at army class system, via US eyes *********************************************************** This issue was brought to me yesterday by a poster through a PM. I could not answer him in details since I did not have much information on what the lady had said and the background. I will attempt to explain her conundrum. The problem with all human beings is that they compare perceptions with stereotypes and based on their own cultural background and environment. She has done merely a short course and her exposure to the Indian military and India's culture is limited. Further, she is basing her opinion on what is done in the US Army, which is totally different in culture, traditions as also technology assisting their way of life in the US. There is a difference in India between officers and men. Indeed, there is no scope for undue familiarity, because familiarity breeds contempt. Unlike the US Army which is actually run by the Sergeants, the Indian Army is run by officer and that is why WE Ewald found it extraordinary in that thread that Officer organise Golf Competition and wondered why it is not left to the Sergeants. Since there is very little difference between the soldier and the officer in background, too much of familiarity may give rise to questioning of orders and that does not encourage efficiency for an Army that is currently continuous 'at war', conventional and unconventional, since the Independence. On the issue of shayaks. They are called 'buddy' these days. Today's soldier is not the old ji hazoor, main baap class of the Raj and some part of post Independence Indian Army. They are educated and more aware and therefore, it would be a misconception that anyone would do menial work. Further, unlike the US Army, where an officer can be posted to 'n' number of unit, an officer of the Indian Army remains in the same unit from the day of his commissioning to the time he takes command of the unit. Therefore, the bonding between the officer and his boys is much more stronger than in the US Army. In fact, the unit is The Family, and in many units, there is the legacy of son following the father to that unit. I know of many fathers who were sahayaks to the father of the CO and it is obvious that he would have a soft corner for the CO and instruct his son to show deference to the CO since the father had practically brought the CO up and was like his own son. Obviously, the son, given Indian culture of obedience to the parent, would go out of his way to assist the CO in his discharge of duty that required the input of the son of the JCO, who was the CO's father's sahayak or in the unit working shoulder to shoulder. Therefore, the US Army lady officer found the 'looking after' aspect by soldiers a wee over the top. She does not have the luxury of remaining in one unit till she commands, and so she finds the bonding odd. As far a soldiers cooking the food and serving, I am not aware of what it is in the US Army. However, in the Indian Army, we have cooks authorised to the Officers Mess and to the Langars (cookhouse for troops).So, it is nothing usual that the IA cook cooks. As far as serving, Mess Waiters are authorised. And so they serve. And there is also a Masalchi authorised who grinds the masala and washes the utensils. These days the mixie is used extensively. One might add that Indian food, unlike Western food, is very elaborate and cannot be whipped up by dousing it with ready made sauces and sprinkled with herbs. Indians find Western food bland and most unpalatable and that is why the Indian contingent has rejected the Western rations while under the UN Flag. So, nothing unusual. Washing clothes and swabbing the floor? The washermen is authorised to all including troops. If they do not wash clothes what are they supposed to do? And these days, it is done through commercial washing machines! The safaiwala is authorised to all. They keep the lines and the rooms clean and hygienic. So, no one is doing anyone a favour. However, someone has failed to explain this to the US lady officer and so she has acted 'knowledgeable' with half baked information and perception, and may have appeared as an 'expert' for her domestic audience. As far as he 'observation' on power cuts in Agra, well, that is a part of life in many parts of India. Those parts are used to this phenomenon, but the lady is not and so she found it odd. That way Indians also find it odd that people can subsist on junk food and are so huge that US airlines contemplate charging such huge people two tickets for one person! Indeed at the MT Park (motor pool in the US), there is a religious structure. The lady finds that odd. That is because she does not know the Indian culture. Indians are very religious, more so, those who work in professions where life is cheap. Hence, before leaving the MT Park, the driver bends his head as he drives past. There is no hard and fast rule that the driver or the passengers have to halt and pray. In fact, in the Army there are many such places where there are small 'temples' of Pir (Muslim saints graves), Hindu temples, Sikh solider's memorial. along treacherous mountain routes, where it is customary for vehicles and convoys to halt and put an offering. I used to find it a waste of time. So, once I told my driver while going up the mountain road during winter on an emergency tactical situation, not to stop but drive on. Call it what you may, the jeep skidded half way through and halted just at the precipice! The result was that, even though I continued to be a non believer, I did not hesitate to halt. I possible did not want to challenge a belief lest the belief challenged me! That she has very little idea of Asia, its culture, its geopolitics or geostrategy, is evident that she feels that there was a Pakistani doing the Indian course with her. Therefore, she is entitled to her perception, but all I would say, it is misplaced since a 52-day course at the Para Training School in Agra would not have giving her an opportunity to understand India and its culture, traditions, customs and religious beliefs or to understand the Indian Army's customs and etiquettes. organisational imperatives etc, to comment knowledgeably. It is like the Indian 'been there, done that' tourist, who dips his or her toe in the Hudson river and becomes an expert on all aspects of the US and its society!