Murphy's Law: Is This The End For The Batman

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May 9, 2012: The Indian Army is eliminating the ancient practice of assigning soldiers to serve as servants for officers. Also known as batmen, orderlies, and so on, the practice has been around for a long while. In ancient times, through the medieval period, a younger man would be an apprentice or squire to a more experienced warrior. In addition to learning the business of war from a pro, the young guy looked after the masters weapons and personal gear, took care of the animals, foraged for food, and helped out in combat. Before the British showed up Indian military leaders often had dozens of servants attending to them. The British (and Western) innovation was to limit personal servants to one. This made armies cheaper and more mobile while still providing officers with a personal servant.

In the modern period the orderly did the same chores as the medieval squire but was no longer in training to be what his boss was. In most armies officers simply assigned one of the more adept troops under their command to be their batman. On the plus side the batman avoided a lot of onerous chores, ate better food, and got to hang out with the officers. It was considered a choice assignment.

Most armed forces phased out the use of orderlies after World War II, although in practice more senior officers would still assign one of his troops to serve the same functions as a batman but give him a different title ("assistant", "driver" or the old reliable "orderly"). As long as officers did not abuse their assistants (especially if they were female, as they sometimes are these days) no one made a fuss. Most senior officers (generals and admirals) are officially assigned several assistants, none of them called batmen, but many of them doing the work the batman used to perform.

The Indian Army will replace the 30,000 soldiers currently serving as batmen with 25,000 lower paid civilians. Lower ranking officers will no longer have their own personal assistant but will have to share one. The former batmen were trained soldiers, some of them at considerable expense in some technical skill. All of these troops will be assigned to purely military duties. Some senior officers will still have soldiers assigned as assistants, who will find themselves doing batman work. But now, as before, smart officers make the job a choice assignment, so no one is likely to complain.

The Indian Navy and Air Force got rid of batmen years ago but still have orderlies and such for senior officers.

 

 


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