The term “Sahayak,” which translates to “buddy,” describes the pairing of two soldiers for tasks and operations. The two will look out for one another both during and after the conflict thanks to this strategy.
What Roles and Responsibilities Do Sahayaks Have? Maintaining the equipment and attire of the police, helping to dig shelters and trenches during combat, drills, or training, and reducing the workload for officers while planning and carrying out activities. These are the duties that are to be conducted by a sahayak for another soldier to help them fight wars. The misuse of workers for domestic purposes is at the core of the Sahayak system’s misconduct but the concept is all flawed. Instead of sahayak being with officers in workplaces, live at their houses and assist their wives and family members in domestic chores.
After a sting video of a jawan named Roy Mathew complaining about being forced to perform the household chores of superior officers went viral in March 2017, his body was discovered hanging at the Deolali cantonment in Maharashtra. A sepoy also released a video online a few days later criticizing the Sahayak system and charging that senior officers treated them like “slaves.” The Indian Army’s “Sahayak” system was the subject of a Public Interest Litigation that the Supreme Court declined to hear. A bench made up of Chief Justice UU Lalit, Justice Ravindra Bhatt, and Justice Bela M Trivedi heard the case. The petitioner claims that the Sahayak system has persisted even after a legislative committee condemned the practice and suggested that it be stopped. The petitioner further argued that the practice of using “Sahayaks” was problematic since when the Jawans increased the duties, the treatment provided during the “otherwise lawful course of employment” was improper. The bench, however, was unpersuaded and asserted that “Sahayak” was a specific station in the Army for which the duties required “You simply submitted a petition after reading something in the newspaper. In 2020, you file something, then completely disregard it. I apologize; this is ill-conceived. Some Sahayaks do not make up the bulk of the army. Dismiss or resign.”  The petition was consequently withdrawn.
The Indian Army has started the process of “decolonizing” its traditions, garb, and various rituals and practices; however, no one from the force, whether currently serving or retired, has even hinted at questioning the obnoxious British custom of assigning ‘batmen’, or personal orderlies, to all army officers. These troops, who were renamed “sahayaks” (helpers). All army officers are assigned sahayaks from the moment they are commissioned as lieutenants—earlier second lieutenants—as part of an accepted practice that continues, uninterruptedly, until they retire, and occasionally even later. This is in keeping with colonial standards. In typical colonial style, prominent army officers were also given legions of dhobis, gardeners, khansamah, and assistant cooks in addition to numerous guards to protect their enormous Raj-era homes.
History of the ‘Sahayak’/ ‘Batmen’ system
Before the invention of motorized transportation, during World War I, soldiers were assigned to cavalry leaders to care for their horses. These men were equipped with “bats,” or pack saddles, which gave them their moniker. After then, they were called “soldier-servants,” and during the Inter-War, they were formally referred to as “batmen,” before becoming an essential component of the British Indian Army and later, after Independence, also of the Indian Army. During World War II, batmen were responsible for delivering their officers’ orders to subordinates, maintaining their uniforms and personal belongings, operating their vehicles, and serving as their escorts in battle, digging foxholes for them, and carrying out various ad hoc chores. In the Indian Army, batmen returned to their former status as “soldier-servants” during times of peace. Around the middle of the 1980s, they were given the name “sahayaks,” in line with emerging ideas among the army’s senior ranks to distance the force from its colonial past. Unfortunately, only the name changed; the sahayaks’ tasks, on the other hand, depressingly deteriorated into little more than doing household chores for many of their superiors.
In 2017, several sahayaks’ films exposing their treatment at the hands of officers surfaced on social media sites. These videos attracted a lot of media attention and temporarily embarrassed the army. These videos showed sahayaks being made to do menial work like cleaning, gardening, and even dog walking when their primary duties were to take care of the officers’ uniforms and carry out various soldierly duties. After that, rather than trying to fix the issue, the army severely restricted all sahayaks’ social media activities under the pretext of maintaining discipline. One veteran claimed that the army had in a way covertly approved the continuation of the sahayaks. Being a sahayak, on the other hand, was occasionally desired for some jawans as it let them avoid more taxing tasks like parades, patrols, and battles and frequently resulted in better rations and other favors from their leaders and their families. Many even bribed their officers into giving them promotions so they could earn more money and eventually receive a larger pension. The debate over getting rid of sahayaks continued over the years, but there was no resolution. Sahayaks were planned to be replaced by civilian employees known as service assistants and non-combatant assistants in 2010–2011 by then Army Chief General V.K. Singh. It was claimed that by taking care of their requirements, which would also be clearly defined, these two categories might support a combined 46,000 officers in the 1.3 million-strong army.
General Bipin Rawat, who was then the army commander and later the chief of the defense staff, once more defended the sahayak system in May 2018 after one Lance Naik had complained of mistreatment in a video he had released online. However, CDS Rawat made a big show of ending the custom of giving retiring generals sahayaks, which had been in place up until that point. General Rawat had stated that the army’s primary duty was to be prepared for battle, not to chauffeur retired generals about a golf course. Ordinary soldiers known as sahayaks perform manservant duties at the homes of officials at permanent installations like the army headquarters in Delhi. The civil servants that were there will be replaced. In his annual press conference held in front of Army Day on January 15, Gen. Rawat stated that “sahayaks are still required in field regions because of the friends only in forward zones.” The army has repeatedly come under fire from parliamentary panels for continuing the “demeaning and humiliating practice of employing jawans (soldiers) as sahayaks,” despite the fact that the navy and the air force terminated the sahayak system long ago.  The army is full of stories about prominent three-star officers, such as a renowned vice-chief of staff, who kept many sahayaks after retiring as a courtesy from their individual regiments to assist them with relocation. Another of comparable status was faced with criminal prosecution if he would not give the sahayaks back, which he eventually did, over five years later. One of these individuals utilized at least two jawans to care for his milch cows.
State of the system in other countries
The colonial idea of batmen had been abandoned by both the Pakistani and Bangladeshi armies. For instance, the former now use civilian employees as batmen who are paid for by the force and are known as non-combatant bearers or non-commissioned batmen. However, the Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan Navy do not formally recognize these two categories; instead, they pay their officers to hire individuals who fall into these categories. The Bangladesh Army employs orderlies who are civilians as well as officers and officer cadets. For its part, the British Army had also phased out the batmen system, with the exception of household division officers or historically, senior military units, due to the high proportion of ceremonial duties required of them. It appears that the colonizers had abandoned the use of batmen while the colonized continued.
Fighting men were regarded as orderlies, or “Sahayaks,” under this colonial system to maintain the cleanliness of the superiors’ clothing. The Sahayak system was abandoned by the Navy and Air Force, but the Army is still suffering from the effects of colonial rule. The Parliamentary Standing Committee advocated for the system’s elimination in 2008. However, the government did little to change it in the Army. According to reports, the Army employs about 25,000 Sahayaks to assist officers with the rank of Major and higher. Colonial rules have to be changed with the passage of time. Each and every army personnel have a responsibility to serve the nation while the system of sahayak in the Indian army hardly provides any direct input into the safety of the nation. The concept is being misused widely.
Author(s) Name: Vaishnavi Sharma (Nirma University, Ahmedabad)
 Padmakshi Sharma, ‘Supreme Court Refuses To Entertain PIL To Abolish ‘Sahayak System’ In India Army’ (Live Law, 31 Oct 2022) <https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/supreme-court-refuses-to-entertain-pil-to-abolish-sahayak-system-in-india-army-212872> accessed 25 December 2022
‘Army has a rethink on its Sahayak system’ (The Hindu, 04 December 2022) <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/army-rethinking-on-sahayak-system-may-induct-civilians-in-peace-stations/article62062138.ece> accessed 07 November 2022
‘Army seeks abolition of Sahayak system’ (Deccan Herald, 14 July 2017)<https://www.deccanherald.com/content/591426/army-seeks-abolition-sahayak-system.html> accessed 07 November 2022