I have been closely following the online videos posted by a couple of men from our armed forces over the past few days and can only say — they are right. I am surprised, however, as to what took them so long to come out in the open.
The advent of social media is, perhaps, the reason but whatever it is, I will narrate a few personal experiences that make me say with conviction these men are not spinning a web of lies and falsehood.
Though I was not an “Army child”, I grew up among Army officers, most notably my late uncle who retired as a lieutenant-general. In the late 1960s, he had a palatial house in Delhi, surrounded by what I can now call a “farmland”, and cultivated wheat and corn, among a lot of vegetables and fruits.
He also had a pack of dogs, in keeping with the size of the “estate”.
There also was a "batman" — essentially a personal servant assigned to a commissioned officer – who would polish his shoes, get his uniform ready and ensure his car was clean and shiny. The batman's duties, after the “sahib” would leave for work, included other menial jobs like cleaning the house, working in the kitchen and tending to the dogs.
He also played with the children (I still remember playing ‘gilli-danda’ with him), took us to the market and did the grocery shopping. At most times, he also substituted as a cook for the household.
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Of course, there was an army of others who tended the garden and maintained the estate, besides driving the ladies of the house to clubs, parties and shopping.
The batman and a few others would also accompany the “sahib” and his friends to the very frequent shikaar (hunting) trips.
But I don’t recall, at any time, any of these people in a proper uniform, though they were always in olive green vests, shorts and t-shirts.
Several of my father's friends and acquaintances were in the Army and the Air Force and, whenever they would visit us or we went to their place, it were always these batmen or “sahayaks” (as they are now called) who would do everything — from cooking, laying the table, serving food, doing the dishes, playing with the children and walking the dogs.
Some years later, two of my aunt’s sons became officers and they had their own batmen. I remember these batmen being sent out to fetch a taxi or an auto-rickshaw, to do grocery shopping and even discuss the dinner menu with the “memsahib” before getting into the cooking routine.
“Batman ko bolo (go ask the batman)” was the usual refrain any time we wanted anything — whether it was a glass of water, a trip to the market or even untangling a stuck button on the shorts.
As I entered the world of work and became a journalist, I experienced the same in my interactions with senior police officers in Gujarat. They, too, had an army of helpers all around them, from tending to their gardens, cleaning their cars, taking the dogs and the kids for walks and even cooking and serving food and drinks.
At police parties we attended, one of the men was always assigned to take care of our son, then a hyperactive one-year-old, and follow him like a shadow.
There were, of course, innumerable times when we used the officer friend’s canteen facilities to buy the "fauji" rum, VIP suitcases, Bournvita, Ovaltine, Eagle flasks and Usha fans, among other things. I even once wanted to buy a motorbike from the canteen but gave up on the idea after it took forever to get one across after completing the formalities. All this only because these things were then (possibly even now) were at least 30 per cheaper at the military facilities.
More recently, a few years ago, I was “party” to my cousin’s batman driving us around Delhi, dropping us off for shopping, going to pick up the kid from school, shopping for vegetables and cleaning the house.
Having seen and experienced all this, the jawans’ revelations come as no surprise.
What I am surprised at is that even in this day and age, such colonial traditions continue and flourish. And, there are officers who have no qualms about such exploitation of men belonging to a fighting force.
Rather than threatening these "whistleblowers", the government, and the Army, should take a long, hard look and correct the malpractices.