SRPF Jawans Absenteeism Problem.

Why does the SRPF force prove to be undisciplined and ineffective during times of major Law and Order problems?  Both the incidents had made a deep impact on my mind.  Now, as SRPF commandant, I had an opportunity to study the mentality of the jawans and find the causes for their failures.  We had an in-service training course for officers in SRPF.

I had prepared case studies of the incidents at Jasai and Nanded.  I arranged for debates on the cases in the leadership courses for SRPF officers.  Very often SRPF fails in the nick of time.  It hesitates to act against strong violent mobs.  It gets disorganized and fails to act as a united force.  If the mob is weak, it resorts to excessive action.  Why do many policemen disobey their officers?  Why do they become undisciplined?  I used to pose these questions to the participants of the training courses.

I was stunned by the replies I received.  The Officers said, “There is nothing unusual in this. It happens all the time.”  Why does this happen in spite of the training, adequate resources and presence of senior officers fail so often? 

Initially I thought that improvement in the training or mob dispersal drills would eliminate the shortcomings.  However, I soon realized that there are limitations to improvement in training courses.  The mob dispersal courses, the mob dispersal parades cannot be improved beyond a point.  What is the root cause of this indiscipline? 

I decided to fathom deep into the SRPF working.  As SRPF Commandant, I realized that the greatest problem was absenteeism.  Jawans would take a couple of days of casual leave, but would then remain absent for days if not for months.  They would come back with a false medical certificate of sickness.  Unauthorized absentees were called “Absconders” or Deserters”.  When such defaulters came back, an offence report was created.  For example: A jawan remaining absent for ten days was punished Rs. 100, and his absence treated as leave without pay.  The quantum of punishment increased proportionately for longer periods of absenteeism. For twenty days absence, it would be two hundred rupees, and for thirty days absence it would be 300 Rupees. 

Initially I followed the practice of inflicting such punishments.  However, I didn’t know why they were remaining absent in this manner.  I started making queries with the officers recommending the punishment to ascertain the reasons for the absence.  I wondered as to why they were not bothered about getting their record spoiled or loss of the job.  The officers had a standard reply.  “The jawans are habituated to such absenteeism”.  I can understand people getting addicted to smoking or drinks.  How can they get habituated to absenteeism and that too so many of them?

I was not satisfied by the stock explanation given by my officers.  The jawan knows that he would lose his pay, get a minor punishment and may eventually lose his job.  Were they so well placed financially that they did not care for the job?  I decided to find out as to how many of them were really so well placed.  In eight months of my tenure as SRPF Commandant, I could find only two jawans who were so well placed, that the job did not matter for them.  One owns a sand carrying truck.  The other ran his own gym and karate class.  I decided to find why others, who liked the job & needed it badly, still indulged in absenteeism.

Out of 1100 jawans in Group II, two hundred jawans had more than twenty punishments for absenteeism!  I sent for them one by one and took them into confidence to find out the real causes of their frequent absenteeism.  I used Freud’s principle of Free Association, in discussing the matter with them at depth.

In the second and third meeting they started speaking frankly.  They narrated their problems. There are many reasons for employee absenteeism.  I discovered twenty-seven reasons.  They ranged from discord with the wife to dislike of the service in the SRPF.  This shows that the root cause of their absenteeism is in their personal life.  It is not just a matter of habit.  Can a fine or treating absence as ‘leave without pay’ cure such ailment? 

As long as the commanding officers do not strive to tackle the basic problems in the life of the jawan, the tendency of absenteeism cannot be controlled.  Fines, extra drills, suspensions cannot solve the basic problem of the jawans.  The survey carried out by me revealed broadly twenty-seven reasons for absenteeism.  There is a system of assembling all the jawans in a “Durbar” to ascertain their grievances.

At times, the jawan is heard individually in the Orderly Room for a few minutes.  This is a very superficial treatment of the problem.  Modern life is very complex.  Trying to tackle the complex issues in the personal life of the jawan in the Darbar or the Orderly Room is a big farce.  These systems cannot touch even the fringe of the problem.

Many officers freely resort to suspensions or drastic punishments to curb absenteeism.  They know only two remedies for absenteeism – rewards or punishments.  They cannot imagine any other remedy.  The incidence of absenteeism can be curbed by such drastic measures.  However, the jawans that do remain on duty due to such measures, do so solely out of fear of punishment.  His heart is not in the work.  He resents the officers recommending or inflicting such severe punishment.  He feels that nobody is trying to understand his real problem.  Instead of helping him, they are harming him.  This breeds resentment towards the force it self.

Do drastic punishment have a sound deterring effect on other members of the force?  Would they avoid absenteeism?  This aspect needs careful consideration.  The officer is only aware of the fact of absenteeism.  The other jawans are aware of the actual problems of their colleagues that caused the absenteeism in the first place.  They feel that their colleague has been punished unnecessarily and unfairly.  They too resent the punishment.  This leads to alienation of the officers and results in a latent spirit of non co-operation.

The SRPF deserts the officer in the nick of a law & order situation, or it indulges in excessive use of force against the meek & poor.  At times it resorts to firing without the orders of the superior officer.  What could be reasons for such behavior?  The most important cause of this phenomenon is the low level of mutual trust in the officers and the men in the force.  The misconduct is a symptom of this distrust.

The following appear to be reasons for the mistrust.  The first reason is that all the powers in the force are concentrated in the hands of the Commandant.  He is the rewarding or punishing officer.  Hence it is customary in the force to accept the authority only of the Commandant.  The saying goes that in the SRPF, there is only one Commandant and the rest are all orderlies!  The second reason is the total mismanagement of leaves.

The third reason is the ignorance of the middle level officers of the personal life and difficulties of the jawans in their unit.  Very few platoon commanders and section officers know the personal life & difficulties of their jawans.  Officers and men serving together for years have a very detached attitude.  There is no bond of friendship in them.  There is neither intimate knowledge nor warmth.

My study has revealed that the subordinate armed jawans do not act on the orders of their officers.  Their sole objective is to protect themselves.  They are bothered about neither the fate of their officer nor the reputation of the force.  I have gathered information about what happened at Ramabai Nagar.  I found the same pattern.  As soon as the mob started pelting stones on the SRPF jawans, they fired back indiscriminately.  Every jawan cared only for his own safety.  They spared no thought for the lives of the innocent citizens, or the orders of the PSI.  Who is the PSI? What have I got to do with him?  How am I concerned with the reputation of the force?  How far do the senior officers or the police force bother about my well being?  These must have been the thoughts dominating the minds of jawans.  There is no feeling of mutual trust between officers & the men.  How far have we taken administrative measures to build the mutual trust in the commanding officers, the intermediate officers and the jawans?  Are we not running the SRPF in an outdated fashion?  Several such questions arose in my mind.