The Indian Army has cantonments or positions at some of the highest points in the world. Officers and men of the Army guard our country from enemies at some of the coldest and most desolate points like Siachen or Nyoma near our border with Chi. So cold is the climate and so inhospitable the terrain that frostbitten toes and deranged minds are occupatiol hazards. But our brave soldiers hazard all odds to protect our country, and quite often give up their lives in the process. Over the decades, their remarkable success has been due to the close bonding between the officers and the men in such desolate and god-forsaken postings. But recent reports of events that took place more than three years ago carry sinister portents of a break in the cordial relations between officers and soldiers that alone can sustain an army as a powerful and coordited fighting force.
In a situation where no confirmed versions can be expected since no FIRs were filed, the sole available version is that the wife of a major complained of sexual harassment by a soldier in a police guest house at Nyoma in Ladakh. According to the summary general court-martial (SGCM) records, the soldier did molest the lady, but that no FIR was filed. Apparently, the soldier who was from a in a village in Chhattisgarh, had been asked to switch on the immersion heater. He entered the room without knocking 20 minutes later in order to switch off the heater, and found the lady in a compromising situation. The officer’s wife, worried about the stories that might get around, promptly telephoned her husband and blamed the soldier.
Thereafter, hell might have been said to have broken loose. The well confirmed information is that thereafter three officers thrashed the soldier until he was “almost dead”. The soldiers who returned from night firing at about 10 p.m. found their comrade in that condition, and demanded that he be moved to a military hospital. According to some reports, the soldiers shouted slogans and that an officer warned them: “You don’t know what we can do. We can throw him from the hills around here and declare him a deserter, and no one will ever find out.” According to a Leh police record, soldiers holding flaming torches hunted the three officers who had fled through the night after their infamous deed. The commanding officer of the unit, Col Prasad Kadam, who was not at the spot when the unfortute event occurred, was returning to the unit, when he fell on the way and injured himself. His wife, who was also in Nyoma, informed the brigade headquarters of what had happened. Later at night, the 3 Infantry Division, also headquartered in Leh, sent reinforcements that surrounded the camp of the 226 Field Artillery Regiment, and its senior officers assured the soldiers that justice would be done. The commanding officer, the soldier almost beaten to death and two others were sent to hospital.
The unfortute sequel to that event is that 150 soldiers of the artillery unit have been subjected to three years of forced confinement against a colonial-era charge of “mutiny” that the officers of the battalion have foisted on them. They have been charged with mutinying, under Sections 37(a) and 37(b) of the Army Act. And because of the severity of the charge, it permits the Army to confine soldiers beyond the “period of limitation” of three years. All this is under the provisions of the summary general court martial (SGCM)—a British legacy whereby the full evidence is never recorded. In some cases, even defence counsel may not be allowed. These were provisions intended to be used against soldiers of the soil by foreign colonial rulers—not against their own soldiers by officers who had themselves broken the law by taking their wives to stations where war exercises were going on. No one seems to be answering the question as to how officers were permitted to take their wives to a field area where members of officers’ families are not permitted. Had this rule not been broken by officers, the cause of conflict, the thrashing of a soldier almost to the point of death, and the subsequent charges of mutiny would not have arisen. Nor would it have been necessary for an officer to threaten a soldier with the words: “We will ruin you. You won’t be able to go from court to court...We’ll ***** your wives and sisters together.”
What happened in Nyoma is the consequence of what our Army officers did by breaking the rule about not taking their families to war exercise areas. They now want to punish soldiers for protesting against what happened to one of them, thrashed almost to the point of death by officers. But where will our Army officers be without their soldiers? And if our armed forces have protected the country against foreign invasion, it has been made possible largely because of our soldiers and not so much because of the officers. We have not come across many instances of the very morale of an army being destroyed because of the misdeeds of its officers. What we have now is the sad case of officers charging their own soldiers of mutiny merely because they have much to cover up in their own conduct. And what kind of SGCM is the Army conducting against its own soldiers if officers can go scot-free for their acts of law-breaking and only soldiers have to face SGCMs where theytestify in Hindi and have their evidence recorded in English? Whether our army officers realize it or not, here is an attempt to break the Army from within merely because officers think they have special privileges when they do not, and because they are out to destroy the morale of their own soldiers. What else is this if not outright sabotage of the armed forces by its own officers?