Multiple media reports state that the that DRDO is to tie-up with IIT-Kharagpur to increase the ‘happiness quotient’ of Indian soldiers; some say the endeavour is devised to bring the smile back to the faces of the soldiers, and others say it's to heighten the morale of soldiers. A comprehensive soldier fitness programme is reportedly being worked out, aimed at increasing happiness quotient of the Indian Army. Manas K Mandal, director-general of Life Sciences at DRDO says, "We are looking at devising ways to build resilience among our soldiers, and it can be done by increasing the happiness quotient among them. We will be working with the Rekhi Centre of Excellence for the Science of Happiness at IIT-Kharagpur."
Mandal, along with Partha Pratim Chakrabarti, director of IIT-Kharagpur told the media that “that an increase in happiness levels increases productivity, resulting in increased sense of loyalty in soldiers”. The reports state that “hundreds of soldiers have committed suicide due to stress in the past six or seven years and many cases of suicides have been reported in Kashmir after the Burhan Wani case.”
The idea of the ‘happiness quotient’ has apparently been derived from the concept of gross national happiness (GNH) and the happiness index introduced by the King of Bhutan in 1972. Bhutan is ranked first in the world happiness index. Mandal told the media, “Unlike the US Army serving in Afghanistan, where soldiers require programmes to de-stress, our men on the frontlines do not need such tools. Most of our soldiers come from struggling families and continue to face hardships on the job, so they are much less vulnerable compared to US soldiers in Afghanistan, who are used to abundance."
"Working in extreme weather conditions (in Siachen, for example) for a prolonged period does require a lot of resilience, which we can induce through this programme (read proposed programme),” Chakrabarti said, adding, “This is an emerging discipline and is going to be one of the key pillars by which human development will happen."
In the above context, both Mandal and Chakrabarti would be well-advised to be very careful of what they say to the media with reference to the army. The loyalty of the Indian soldier is unquestionably the very best. An odd case of fratricide does not mean that you start questioning the loyalty of soldiers and start working on a programme to educate soldiers across the board about loyalty. On the contrary, those involved with working on the proposed programme need to go and spend some days living with troops at the frontline to see why they are stressed out. Dr Abdul Kalam (later president) as principal scientific advisor had remarked after his first visit to Siachen, “I wish I had come to this area earlier during my 26 years with the DRDO."
Both Mandal and Chakrabarti actually owe an apology to the army soldiers for questioning their loyalty, especially at a time when the army is being denigrated, including by putting army soldiers below the policeman in terms of pay and allowances.
Morale again is a function of command. No amount of courses, cadres or education programs can teach morale to the soldiers unless there is an improvement in the stressful environment in which they are operating. Quoting Wani’s killing when talking of soldier suicides is also stupid. Surely, soldiers are not committing suicide in mourning or euphoria over this terrorist having been killed. Much before Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed on yoga and successfully introduced the International Yoga Day, whole infantry battalions were practicing yoga during their entire tenure on the Saltoro Massif in Siachen Glacier, and had been coming out stress-free, some even without a single weather casualty. Mandal should also know that number of suicides in units deployed in peace is more than in those in units deployed in the field.
The logic that our soldiers coming from struggling families that continue to face hardships on the job, so they are much less vulnerable to stress cannot be applied across the board because what is described as “struggling families” are mostly joint families. The soldier becomes aware of family or social clash immediately with modern communications, and since he cannot rush home every time because of commitments, his stress levels go up. The civil administration seldom entertains problems of the families back home and why should they when you have politicos making occasional statements that soldiers are meant to die anyway?
The Centre making any effort toward sthis is out of the question when peacefully-protesting veterans are baton-charged by the police, while serving soldiers including wards of those being beaten up, watch in horror. The defence minister tells Service Chiefs to immediately implement 7th Pay Commission, placing the soldiers under even the police and civilian defence employees, and the department of ex-servicemen (DESW) takes pleasure in denying dues to every widow and even the war-wounded and disabled, forcing them into prolonged litigation they can ill-afford.
How can the DRDO-IIT evolve programs for the military without going and living with the soldiers along the LoC and experiencing battle environments in conflict situations?
The happiness quotient is directly proportional to pay commissions and the partial OROP that has been granted, plus living conditions of the soldiers and their families. The abject penury of the families of the 18 martyrs of the Uri attack shown on TV was moving. With the breadwinner gone, every penny is vital to them, especially when there is no provision to even provide a job to a family member as in the case of police. The type of response for the Uri attack doesn’t raise the morale or happiness of the soldier either with terrorists having killed and burned alive 18 of their kin.
Sure, the army must ensure that the officer-soldier relationship remains the very best at all times but what is the DRDO and IIT going to do about the happiness quotient in the civil-military relationship that appears to have reached its lowest nadir? How will Mandal tackle the mounting happiness quotient of the politico-bureaucratic mafia that goes euphoric every time the happiness quotient of the soldier declines? Besides, what Mandal knows and Chakrabarti does not is that during the Kargil Conflict, General VP Malik — then Army Chief — was forced to say, "We will fight with what we have."
The DRDO is the acknowledged culprit within the military as the prime contributor to the low levels of happiness of the soldier. With its sprawling mass and manpower, the DRDO has failed to provide the soldier with adequate clothing, weapons, surveillance equipment for day and night operations, communications, survival equipment etc when say in the LoC environment, the threat to life is greater and demands on the soldier to remain vigilant 24x7 are constantly giving them limited sleep — leave alone the hawks angling to increase their stress through human rights violation allegations, most of which are false.
The Bhutanese concept of GNH and happiness index of the Bhutanese in Bhutan’s environment is something entirely different from the happiness quotient of the Indian soldier. From what is apparent, the proposed programme is still an “emerging discipline” and the Rekhi Centre of IIT-Kharagpur primarily runs eight-week programmes for corporate organisations. How can the DRDO-IIT evolve programs for the military without going and living with the soldiers along the LoC and experiencing battle environments in conflict situations? The policymakers need to look into these issues least we land up in another wasteful project of the DRDO sans any significant gain.
The author is a veteran Lieutenant-General of the Indian Army