Case Study Ethics

A jawan in the Indian Army is extremely disillusioned with his present
working conditions. Stationed at a high-altitude border post, he struggles
with the hostile weather, the risk of enemy gunfire and the stress of
constantly being in a state of high alertness. Such stress if further
compounded by the poor living conditions and a very meagre, often
inedible diet.
He approaches his seniors on multiple occasions, but they offer him only
superficial assurances, with no concrete solution to any of his problems. In
a moment of frustration, he makes a video wherein he describes the
hardships being faced by the soldiers and the apathy of the higher officials.
He then posts the video online, where it soon goes viral, attracting
international viewership and attention.
i) Do you believe he was correct in releasing this video in the open public
domain?
ii) What are the ethical issues involved in this case?
iii) What corrective actions would you suggest to prevent any such
incidents in the future?
(300 words – 25 marks)

No, he was not correct. I sympathize with the hostile working environment he
works in and the indifference he faces from his superiors. But given the fact that
his action may be seen as representative of the sentiments of all armed forces
personnel, it was a potentially disastrous step to take.
The error of his actions can be better understood by considering the ethical
issues involved in his action:
i) It has a detrimental impact on the morale of all armed forces personnel,
accentuating their dissatisfaction and dampening their willingness to do their
duties.
ii) It dilutes the authority of senior officers in commanding their forces and may
even lead to increased incidents of fratricide.
iii) It shakes public trust/confidence in the dedication and abilities of the armed
forces.
iv) It provides fodder to the propaganda machinery of other nations, to use in
further demoralizing our troops.
However, it would not be fair to assess the ethical issues without considering
them from the perspective of the senior officers of the army. These include:
i) A self-centered and apathetic attitude of the officers in ignoring the plight of
their own subordinates, leaving them with no option but to take drastic steps.
ii) The apparent lack of an appropriate grievance redressal mechanism through
which jawans can voice their problems and expect a meaningful resolution.
In these circumstance, the corrective actions that can be suggested
include:
i) Disciplinary action against the jawan for a breach of duties. This is especially
important to discourage similar actions by others in the future.
ii) Strict enquiry and action against officers whom this jawan had approached, who
chose to dismiss his concerns with sheer indifference.
iii) A thorough review of the working and living conditions of our jawans, with timebound implementation of appropriate improvements.
iv) Establishment of an appropriate grievance redressal mechanism so that similar incidents can be promptly identified and addressed.

One comment

  • I assume that the jawan presented a truthful account of his circumstances in the video. There was nothing in the case description to suggest that he was spreading false rumors, but only that he described the actual conditions of his workplace and the actual response of those who supervised him.
    Since a soldier is usually restricted to addressing problems through his immediate superiors, he had exhausted the means provided to him by the military. So, he appealed to the public.
    There is no reason to presume the negative consequences that you list. (1) It would not suppress the morale of other soldiers in a similar predicament. It would most likely boost their morale to know that they were not alone in their suffering, if they were indeed suffering. And if they were not suffering, even while working under the same conditions, then they might want to send him a note or make their own video suggesting he stop whining. (2) It has no impact upon anyone’s authority and certainly does not incite anyone to murder! (Why did you even suggest such a thing?!) (3) It appropriately shakes the public’s confidence in the management of the military, by truthfully informing them of a real problem. And it is likely to require the public’s pressure to effect any meaningful change in frozen policies. (4) The best defense against lying propaganda is the truth. And if you are afraid of the truth, then your problem is deeper than one soldier’s dissatisfaction.
    In your recommendations, please consider that items ii, iii, and iv would be unlikely to ever occur without his video going viral.