Zip those lips: Soldiers venting frustrations on social media is not a good idea

It will imperil a disorderly nation’s last bastions of order.

To remind ourselves what command failure can do to uniformed forces in India, consider this excerpt from a new book about the 1989 riots in Bhagalpur, Bihar, where about 900 of the 1,000 or so people who died were Muslim.

“When Terah Mile, a village in then undivided Bhagalpur…was attacked, the police did nothing to stop the rioters. Instead, eyewitness testimonies reveal, they encouraged the mob to kill and pillage the Muslims. In the police contingent present on the sport, three personnel were Muslim, and they did try to stop the rioters, but their efforts came to naught as the overwhelming number of their Hindu colleagues abetted the rioters.”

Written by lawyers Warisha Farasat and Prita Jha, the book – which also investigates state accountability in the Gujarat riots of 2002 (when about 800 of the estimated 1,100 who died were Muslim) – details police indifference and complicity. In some cases, the policemen urged Hindu rioters to kill Muslims or stood aside to let that happen.

Such connivance with rioters is not new. Police forces in many Indian states have served as the strong arms or shields of mobs over the years. The saving grace, we have often been told, is that the paramilitary forces and the army – imbued with greater discipline and isolated from larger society – are not cut from the same cloth. When public order breaks down, they can be relied on to restore order without fear or bias. While that is largely true, it does not always work that way. For instance, Farasat explains how Border Security Force and army units brought in to Bhagalpur to bring calm were misdirected by local police, on whom they usually depend. And in conflict zones where the paramilitary and the army have seen long, extensive deployments in close quarters with local society, such as Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and Manipur, they have been complicit in excesses and carried out extra-judicial killings. Yet, overall, it is reasonable to say that discipline has held fast.

Fraying discipline

Last week, we saw distinct signs that this discipline could be fraying, as four young men – from the BSF, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Sashastra Seema Bal and the army – took to social media to express discontent with their food, salaries and working conditions, including such tasks as walking the dogs of superior officers. Before the advent of social media, it was easier to keep frustrations out of the public eye. There was no mobile phone to reach for the moment a soldier felt an upswell of emotion. In that sense, the four soldiers in question behaved much like the rest of modern society – expressing what they felt instead of keeping it bottled up, using the tools of personalised new media to instantly address the world beyond their camps and cantonments. It is also true that frustrations in the uniformed forces have – as internal conflicts and deployments increase over the years – usually come to public attention only when a soldier turns his gun on colleagues or superiors. Indeed, last week a Central Industrial Security Force soldier killed four colleagues after being denied leave.

There are two questions that the online rebellions of last week raise: Is it better that a soldier in a nation of a billion mobile-phone connections be given more leeway, more consideration than before and be allowed to vent his frustrations? Or should no quarter be given where discipline is concerned for the world’s third-largest army, with about 1.4 million soldiers and almost as many paramilitary forces?

These questions are fine for television debates and newspaper columns, but there is only one acceptable answer: There can be no social-media broadcasts to the nation by individual soldiers, and no soldier can behave like the average citizen or expect the same freedoms.

Cause for complaint?

It is not my case that there is no merit in some of the issues raised by the social-media complaints by soldiers. Lance Naik Yagya Pratap Singh – based in the army’s 42nd infantry brigade in Dehradun – spoke of walking dogs and looking after the children of superior officers. It is an open secret that lower ranks in uniformed forces across India – police, army and paramilitary – are routinely deployed as household help. Called sahayaks (helpers) in the army or orderlies in the police, they shine shoes, cook food, serve drinks, tend gardens and sweep. Indeed, after Lance Naik Singh’s video went viral, new army chief Bipin Singh Rawat called a press conference and said he supported a review of the sahayak system. Sometimes, it takes publicity to spark reform. It was the threat of a police strike, in 2015, that forced the Karnataka government to hastily announce that 3,000 constables deployed as orderlies might be recalled from the homes of officers (it has not yet happened).


“Improve the food quality, don’t blame their indisciplined action (sic),” Anurag, the brother-in-law of Tej Bahadur Yadav – the BSF soldier who complained of watery dal and blackened rotis – told The family of the CRPF soldier who complained about work conditions on social media made a similar argument. The CRPF is one of India’s most stressed uniformed forces. Its unofficial acronym, Chalte Raho Pyare, or keep moving my lovely, echoes its pressures: battalions heading for peacetime stand-downs after a long deployment being turned around mid-journey to a new conflict zone. The frequent denial of leave to garner enough soldiers for new deployments leaves little time for rest and training.

But even if all the complaints made are valid, it is impossible for uniformed forces to accept indiscipline and allow social-media broadcasts to go unpunished. No precedents can be set when the security of a nation of 1.2 billion depends on less than three million men and women in uniform. These men and women cannot, under any circumstances, be allowed to bypass their grievance-redressal mechanisms – however imperfect – and directly address the Indian people, who, as we know, are naturally given to disorder and emotion, greatly heightened in this age of social media and the mobile phone. India has frequently been witness to the damage done by police forces who compromised discipline and surrendered command and control to the mob. It cannot allow that to happen to its final bastions of order.

Samar Halarnkar is editor,, a data-driven, public-interest journalism non-profit.

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Harvard Business School’s HBX brings the future of business education to India with online programs

HBX is not only offering courses online, but also connecting students to the power of its network.

The classic design of the physical Harvard Business School (HBS) classroom was once a big innovation – precisely designed teaching amphitheaters laid out for every student to participate from his or her seat with a “pit” in the center of the room from which professors orchestrate discussions analyzing business cases like a symphony lead. When it came to designing the online experience of HBX—the school’s digital learning initiative—HBS faculty worked tirelessly to blend these tenets of the HBS classroom pedagogy with the power of new technology. With real-world problem solving, active learning, and social learning as its foundation, HBX offers immersive and challenging self-paced learning experiences through its interactive online learning platform.

Reimagining digital education, breaking the virtual learning mold

Typically, online courses follow a one-way broadcast mode – lectures are video recorded and reading material is shared – and students learn alone and are individually tested. Moving away from the passive learning model, HBX has developed an online platform that leverages the HBS ‘case-based pedagogy’ and audio-visual and interaction tools to make learning engaging.

HBX courses are rarely taught through theory. Instead, students learn through real-world problem-solving. Students start by grappling with a business problem – with real world data and the complexity in which a business leader would have to make a decision – and learn the theory inductively. Thus even as mathematical theories are applied to business situations, students come away with a greater sense of clarity and perspective, whether it is reading a financial report, understanding why a brand’s approach to a random sample population study may or may not work, or how pricing works.

HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program
HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program

“Learning about concepts through real-life cases was my favorite part of the program. The cases really helped transform abstract concepts into observable situations one could learn from. Furthermore, it really helped me understand how to identify situations in which I could use the tools that HBX equipped me with,” says Anindita Ravikumar, a past HBX participant. India’s premier B-school IIM-Ahmedabad has borrowed the very same pedagogy from Harvard. Learning in this manner is far more engaging, relatable, and memorable.

Most lessons start with a short 2-3 minute video of a manager talking about the business problem at hand. Students are then asked to respond on how they would handle the issue. Questions can be in the form of either a poll or reflections. Everyone’s answers are then visible to the ‘classroom’. In the words of Professor Bharat Anand, Faculty Chair, HBX, “This turns out to be a really important distinction. The answers are being updated in real-time. You can see the distribution of answers, but you can also see what any other individual has answered, which means that you’re not anonymous.” Students have real profiles and get to know their ‘classmates’ and learn from each other.

HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort
HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort

Professor Anand also says, “We have what we call the three-minute rule. Roughly every three minutes, you are doing something different on the platform. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. Anyone could be called on to participate at any time. It’s a very lean forward mode of learning”. Students get ‘cold-called’ – a concept borrowed from the classroom – where every now and then individuals will be unexpectedly prompted to answer a question on the platform and their response will be shared with other members of the cohort. It keeps students engaged and encourages preparedness. While HBX courses are self-paced, participants are encouraged to get through a certain amount of content each week, which helps keep the cohort together and enables the social elements of the learning experience.

More than digital learning

The HBS campus experience is valued by alumni not just for the academic experience but also for the diverse network of peers they meet. HBX programs similarly encourage student interactions and opportunities for in-person networking. All HBXers who successfully complete their programs and are awarded a credential or certificate from HBX and Harvard Business School are invited to the annual on-campus HBX ConneXt event to meet peers from around the world, hear from faculty and business executives, and also experience the HBS campus near Cambridge.

HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand
HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand

Programs offered today

HBX offers a range of programs that appeal to different audiences.

To help college students and recent graduates prepare for the business world, HBX CORe (Credential of Readiness) integrates business essentials such as analytics, economics, and financial accounting. HBX CORe is also great for those interested in an MBA looking to strengthen their application and brush up their skills to be prepared for day one. For working professionals, HBX CORe and additional courses like Disruptive Strategy, Leading with Finance, and Negotiation Mastery, can help deepen understanding of essential business concepts in order to add value to their organizations and advance their careers.

Course durations range from 6 to 17 weeks depending on the program. All interested candidates must submit a free, 10-15 minute application that is reviewed by the HBX admissions team by the deadlines noted on the HBX website.

For more information, please review the HBX website.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HBX and not by the Scroll editorial team.