Border Security Force Constable Tej Bahadur Yadav's viral video, highlighting the deplorable conditions in which jawans live and work on the borders and begging the authorities to take note, has not only found support on social media but has also opened the path for other soldiers to follow suit.
After Yadav's video went viral online, forcing the Centre to take note and order an inquiry, there have been more cases of jawans opening up and complaining about the inadequate facilities provided to them.
On Wednesday, an anonymous letter by another BSF jawan addressed to the Ministry of Home Affairs complained about 20-hour shifts instead of the stipulated 8 hours and in a video posted online on Thursday, a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) soldier, Constable Jeet Singh, requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi for better pay and amenities.
Singh pointed out that CRPF jawans, who were guarding important public places such as the Parliament building, providing security during elections, and guarding important religious shrines were entitled to much fewer facilities compared to soldiers in the Indian Army, received no pensions and had no access to Army canteens.
It doesn't stop there, in the latest, now the video of the Indian Army's Lance Naik Yagya Pratap has surfaced on Friday morning where he pointed out how action is taken against those who raise their voice.
"I have been in the army for 15 years. I have been concerned about the exploitation of jawans in the army, I was gathering courage to raise my voice. All powers are with the officers... if we complain, they get angry and take action against us," Pratap says in the video.
Pratap goes on to describe how senior level officers misuse their power. "The officers tell us you will be court-martialled. I did not divulge any service details in the letter, then how is this sedition? This is my last letter. Jawans are taking dogs for walk, looking after children," Pratap said.
Given the extreme hierarchy and strict discipline demanded in the armed forces, it is presumably next to impossible for a low ranking soldier to directly approach the authorities. The fact that Yadav and Singh risked their jobs to make their appeals through social media indicates that they had no faith in their commanding officers and in the established procedures for registering grievances.
The BSF was quick to point a finger at Yadav in the face of criticism, calling him an alcoholic. "Constable Tej Bahadur as an individual has a difficult past. From initial days of his career, he needed regular counselling. Different correction mechanics have been applied for the individuals 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," rediff.com quoted from BSF's statement.
What Yadav did was not something many BSF jawans, despite the difficulties they face, would have the guts to do. Former DG of Bureau of Police Research and Development, NR Wasan, is of the opinion that there are genuine problems in the paramilitary forces. "Yadav may not have approached it the right way, but what does one do when they are frustrated? In the armed forces you give up your personal life. What does one do when you feel like something wrong has been done to you?" Wasan told HuffPost India.
Former IG BSF, PK Mishra, agreed with Wasan. "What Tej Pratap Yadav has said is more or less true. These people do not get leaves, they don't get pension, they don't get OROP also," he told HuffPost India.
"BSF jawans are mostly deployed in the field and they deserve rest and relief. If mismanagement of the welfare of jawans, the quality of food served to them, their accommodation is not being looked after you cannot keep quiet. Victimisation is not good, they must be heard," he added.
Speaking about the working conditions of BSF and CRPF jawans, Mishra said, "BSF and CRPF jawans have never seen Saturdays and Sundays, and for that they must get proper allowances. The government must take note."
After Yadav's video went viral, there have been other reports of pilferage by BSF officers that allege that the officers sell ration and petrol meant for jawans to locals in Jammu and Kashmir. These allegations are not new.
"The issue is there is corruption in the CRPF, BSF as well as in the Indian Army. This is a common malaise that has not come out or has come out once in a while," Wasan said.
According to Wasan, one of the biggest problems is that the forces have become too big and there is only one Director General looking over the forces posted across the country. "Even if a DG wants to do a good job, he cannot because of logistics," he said. "When there is a problem, it should be tackled from the root."
The solution, Wasan says, lies in dividing the forces with more than one head in charge. "First divide the forces, secondly there needs to be a high degree of accountability for officers," he added. "Third, regular surprise checks need to be conducted and fourth a robust mechanism needs to be in place to enforce these things."
According to Wasan, the emphasis on hierarchy needs to be eased a little. "Jawans need to have more accessibility to higher ranking officers so that they can voice their grievances," he said.
In the wake of videos and other reports highlighting the difficulties being faced by paramilitary soldiers, the government has taken note and promptly ordered an enquiry. The BSF too has issued fresh guidelines for maintaining high quality of food for its personnel along the border.
Yadav's fervent plea on social media, with others jawans following suit, has certainly created a stir in the top echelons of the paramilitary forces. What remains to be seen is whether there is real change for the better and the concerned authorities implement better and stricter mechanisms to ensure that the jawans actually live and work in the conditions due to them.
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