On Thursday, 2 March 2017, Roy Mathew, a 33 year old Indian Army soldier was found dead. His remains were hanging from the ceiling of an abandoned barrack, in a state of decomposition.
Is There More Than What Meets the Eye?
On Thursday, 2 March 2017, Roy Mathew, a 33 year old Indian Army soldier was found dead. His remains were hanging from the ceiling of an abandoned barrack, in a state of decomposition. He had been missing since 25 February 2017. Doctors state that he possibly died three days before he was found. Police are awaiting autopsy reports to determine whether it was suicide or murder. The Army has ordered a Court of Inquiry.
Roy Mathew had been involved in a recent media exposé of the ‘Sahayak’ system. He had served the Army for around 13 years and was from the Regiment of Artillery, posted at Deolali Cantonment, Maharashtra.
What was the Media Exposé About?
The sting operation involving Roy Matthew was about Indian Army’s sahyak system, residual from the British Raj. It showed a masked Roy Mathew describing the work he was detailed to perform, as menial. The online video depicted sahayaks being asked to polish officer’s shoes, run errands for the family, walk dogs etc. It evoked widespread public criticism and calls for abolishing the archaic practice. The sahayak or ‘buddy’ system, permitted by the Govt., also facilitates feedback and brings officers and men closer. However, the Indian Air Force and Navy do not have such a practice, and it has been abolished, in many developed countries.
The video has since been removed from the internet.
What does this Spell for the Military?
- WHO estimates that more than 1M suicides take place, every year; and more than 20-times that number, make the attempt. Indian suicide rates are increasing faster than the global rate; in 2013, it is estimated that 250,000 Indians committed suicide. The Indian Army is no exception to this global and national phenomenon. Cultural, economic, social and religious pressures drive many Indians to take this extreme step.
- Gunner Roy Mathew, though he was broadcast with face-covered, in the Media expose, could easily be identified and is understood to have apologized to his officer. With his name becoming public, he may have felt emotional distress and taken the drastic step. The Army has however ordered an inquiry, to rule out the possibility of murder.
- In January 2017, BSF Jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav, complained of the quality of food being provided. The clip went viral and encouraged others to follow suit. While complaints and feed-back to improve, systems are welcome, it is perhaps unfair for media to exploit the simplicity of soldiers. Soldiers are trained to be be loyal to their units and their officers; and tempting them with anonymous media exposes, challenges their loyalty.
There are some virtues in the ‘Buddy’ system but we also need to acknowledge social, economic and education changes in the quality of the Indian Army soldier. Today’s soldier, is a proud human being, who aspires both for professional excellence and respect in society. Many soldiers would be unwilling to perform menial duties. The Indian Army needs to review the Sahayak System. In the meantime, if the Indian Army gives assurance that it would review the system, the Media should spare our soldiers the temptation and consequent ignomy of media exposes.