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Military officers who faced ‘ragging’ at NDA say cadets need to be broken in

A former NDA instructor and a serving officer told me training of cadets is ‘still inadequate’ and ‘ragda’ should in fact increase.

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Much has been said over the past few weeks about the National Defence Academy, which annually trains about 400 cadets who go on to join their respective services in the Indian armed forces. The academy became a topic of debate following an article in ThePrint discussing all that ails the institution. While the article seeks a review of the academy’s functioning at various levels, its most pressing concern was the extreme forms of punishment meted out to cadets. The piece argued that breaking the will of the cadets to ensure discipline is no longer the need of the day.

But an interesting view already existed, one that became clear as I spoke to several officers, both serving and retired, at all levels. There is an overall consensus that physical and mental toughening of the cadets is necessary because it is an essential aspect of the ‘breaking-in’ process at the National Defence Academy (NDA).

A young officer believes that it was the ‘unofficial punishments’ that prepared him to meet the physical standards expected of him later on. A mid-level officer feels that there is a need for soldiers who have the wherewithal to gut the enemy. These soldiers must bleed themselves first and be a qualified technocrat later. A serving officer, who was an instructor at the NDA, seemed convinced that the training is still ‘inadequate’ and that the ‘ragda’ should in fact increase.

Also read: Outdated courses to rampant ragging: Why India’s National Defence Academy needs urgent help

Toughen up

ThePrint article flagged the NDA’s training methodology, particularly the excessive “ragging” of cadets. Unofficial toughening in the NDA is broadly categorised as ‘constructive’ and ‘non-constructive’. The former includes interventions that ultimately increase physical fitness. However, the latter, which can cause bodily damage, is to an extent a matter of concern.

The majority view on this is that the ‘non-constructive’ toughening needs to be supervised by trained instructors with the maturity and knowledge to contain injury. Conversely, there are others who have come through the same route and see nothing wrong in it. They feel that ‘non-constructive training’ is on a decline.  These aspects have been reviewed and physical assault, which was once prevalent, is no longer acceptable.

A very senior and respected veteran officer pointed out that there are cadets who may not have played organised outdoor games before joining the NDA. There are differing levels of fitness because cadets come from diverse backgrounds, including the Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC), the Sainik Schools, and non-military schools. The ethos and mindsets they bring in differ, and hence, a process to bring everyone to the same level is required.

In order to prepare a large group of young people for a profession that demands extreme obedience, mental strength, and physical capability in the face of battle, toughening is necessary.

Recounting his first evening at the NDA, the young officer mentioned above said that a senior came to his room and made him do push-ups. His arms started trembling after seven, and he could do just about two chin-ups. Mandatory tests called for 25 push-ups and six chin-ups. After a year-and-a-half, this officer said he could do 65-70 push-ups and 25-odd chin-ups, and he was very sure that it wasn’t the structured physical training exercises that had helped him achieve this.

The mid-level officer believes the NDA’s role needs to be understood in totality. Irrespective of technology, the man behind the machine will continue to fight battles and it is his mettle that will win battles. The officer, who was earlier an NDA instructor, said there is plenty of time to make officers tech-savvy but just three years to groom them and instill confidence in them. The physical and mental toughening instills the strength and the ability in them to continue to excel even when the chips are down.

Also read: CBI raids on defence academy show military education system needs fixing

Cyber warfare for teens is a stretch

When it comes to curriculum, it is not just the NDA’s but the syllabus at Sainik Schools and other feeder military and non-military schools that need revamping. While there is a need to update the academic syllabus, it does not need to be at the cost of mental, physical, or psychological toughness. Discipline, awareness, fitness, and marksmanship are of priority. The emphasis is on keeping the cadets on their toes, breaking down the inhibitions they possess as teenagers, and making them mentally tough to excel under pressure. There is a need for almost robotic and instant obedience to orders and instructions. In an operational scenario, this is a great asset in a soldier.

While not espousing that cadets be turned into zombies, analytical and other nuances of leadership and decision-making processes must follow and not precede the physical and mental strengthening that is vital for leaders taking troops into battle. While the curriculum needs to be reviewed in keeping with the dynamic and evolving needs of present-day military requirements, insistence on including sophisticated technology is a stretch.

Computer education is anyway being imparted to the cadets. Considering the different backgrounds and education levels of the cadets, giving everyone a basic understanding of computers is more essential than teaching 16 to 19-year-olds about cyber warfare and asymmetric war. No amount of generic technology training can prepare a soldier to absorb unrelated and unpredictable technology, which he may be exposed to two decades later in his service. Some officers whose children are currently at the NDA, while agreeing with the need for physical and mental toughening, are worried about putting untrained senior cadets in charge of these exercises.

Also read: For Army Training Command, location is least of its problems

Not just NDA’s infrastructure

Issues raised in ThePrint article about the deterioration in infrastructure is a fact. But it is probably a part of the larger malaise of shrinking funds for training institutions. There is no doubt that the methodology and the system of training need a review at all armed forces’ institutions, including the Indian Military Academy (IMA) and the Officers Training Academy (OTA). There is no taking away from the fact that the NDA, like any other institution, is a dynamic entity and has to evolve with time. While the overall sentiment is that it serves the purpose for which it was set up, there is a definite need for high-quality instructors, both civil and military.

While agreeing with all that has been said, when a critique of an institution is put out on a public platform for debate, it is natural for its alumni to go on the defensive. The life-long bonding that is formed during the intense mental and physical engagement between the cadets is unparalleled, say most officers I spoke to. A large part of the defensive reaction to the criticism comes from this ownership and bonding.

Excellence is a constantly evolving paradigm. All centres of excellence need a conscious effort to retain the unique proposition that went into establishing them. Open, constructive debates only strengthen these institutions, but the platform for such debates needs to be chosen carefully to involve all concerned in a meaningful conversation.

The author is a former civil servant and has worked with the ministry of defence. Views are personal.

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  1. Leave it to the army. They will do what is best for them. Mental toughness is important for an army officer. They are in the business of war and war does not give you a second chance. An officer supposed to lead his men fearlessly in a war situation and terrorist attacks. The informal and formal physical training both help him. To this day I have not met an ex NDA who has criticised it. However physical beating is a strict No No. That lowers the dignity of an officer. Someone mentioned about beg, borrow or steal. Well that’s a phrase for getting the job done at all cost. It should not be taken literally. There is a strict punishment in NDA for stealing and copying. That includes relegation and even expulsion from the academy.

  2. Organized toughening exercises under close supervision of an officer is need of the hour.The mass punishment sessions conducted at middle of the night by senior cadets in corridors ,flanks,bathrooms must end.

  3. I am admit that modernising the army training is good. But hw many of the civil servants r working for welfare of army. The training for IPS officers should made more tougher and smarter not for IMA cadets already they r doing great job. indian army officer post is one of the most prestigious posts in the world. Ragadas wnt make the juniors to be soft they r making everyone stronger,tougher.when u r getting into mountain terrains, jungle warfare u cnt trust ur tech,that time comes a fearless spark in the back bones to meet the enemies even in dark.the above feeling cnt come when u became techie, when u r a warrior ,protector, guardian u should train hard enough upto the BREAKING POINT of physical and mental endurance. Thats what is done by our army instructors in academy

  4. Been through all this. Ragda does not make good officers. Training makes. The ragging is stupid way of moulding the cadets. That’s the reason , we , officers lack creativity because it gets killed right there. Justifying it has no basis. We got to grow. It has to change. Whole training curriculum needs overhaul. Change with the times.

  5. Dear intelligent & brave civilians do not try to invade professional army s institute. Enjoy tea at home. Only veterans comments welcome

  6. Right Person @ Right Place @Right Time is concerns of opinion maker, UK military reviewed their HR refer BR 2 & BR 3 in 2016, these were of 1900 yr, which were applied in Acts. Google it at #www#royalnavy#mod#uk/reference-library/br3vol1

  7. The ‘ragda’ part is so essential in mental & physical toughening of cadets as part of initial military training. This weeds out the mentally weak trainees.
    War is not easy business. It is a question of life & death. There are no ‘runners-up’ in war.
    The profession of arms is not for chicken hearted people. God forbid if someone becomes prisoner of war. Remember how Saurabh Kalia was treated by Pakis ?
    Mental toughening is more important than physical toughening.
    So, the parents & kids who see Armed Forces purely as lucrative job spinner better change their minds well in time. Otherwise, they will only betray the whole nation.

  8. Agree,that mental and physical toughenig is necessary to endure the stress and strain of war and unpredictable nature of the army service. For that any punshment which leads to this aim is welcome. Let me cite a personal example. My son who is a very good athelete and player of various games specially basketball. He joined army thru OTA,despite the fact that he didnot need to go to army to face strenuous and risky life for the purpose of employment. But he was determined to go to army right from the inception like his father ie me. He was doing very well and was in batch of first ATPs( acronym for all testspass) he was excelling in everything. He was marksman day they came back from firing and my son and his closest friend were chatting and perspiring in hot and humid climate of chennai,in ante room,both the friends were in category of marks man. Suddenly, SUO of company approaches them and the getup give due respect. SUO,was bugged of god knows what. He asks my son to slap his friend. My son initially thought he is joking. He tried to evade and said ” sir why should i slap him he is my friend and he hasn’tdone anything wrong”. But suo persisted.Then my son lightly gave him a slap. SUO said ok, i will tell you how to slap. He gave a tight slap to my son which has reduced his hearing because of that. My son had never slappwd anyone in life or even never quarrelled with anyone. He was fuious and could have rozzered this blighter but ran to the telephone booth and rang me up and said” papa, today he hit me even”. I was perturbed but composed myself and told him not to retaliate and leave it to me.
    I rangup a brig known to me on regimental net and he told me not to worry and he will lookafter him.Gentlemen you who support such kind of treatment i will call you cowards,saddists and totally unfit to be called officers. You hurt someones dignity honour and self respect, you cant be officers.
    Now,come to second part more tragic. DCCI a maj gen was incidentally known to me i rang him up after getting his mobile number. I was shaken to know that he supported the incident . I lost my cool and fired this bastard and said” Gen X listen to me. My son has not gone to OTA to earn his lively hood. Indian army cant pay him that much what he would have earned sitting at home. He has gone there because he is physically and mentally fit and highly motivated. ” To this The Ratched general replied” you can withdraw him if you want.” I was pissed beyond limits and told this joker” X(no general or any prefix) I will not withdraw him. On 13 of sept 20xx either i will get him home as a Lieutenant or if you manage to kill him i will come to collect his dead body and being a xxx( my caste) it will be over 100 dead bodies including yours” and disconnected the telephone. I also told him i m not colxxx who withdrew his son on account of manhandling (The boy who was manhandled he was thrown out of academy ) but i m a different creed. I will have you.
    Whole academy was made to fall in at night and my son was humiliated without naming him.
    I knew the COAS designate but never told him for any favour. Now, i told him and screwed hell out of thid DCCI and commandant. My son was not touched after that but other GCs kept on getting beaten up ruthlessly in his company he later on told me after passing out. The video showing a GC being beaten up by hockey sticks was a truth.
    If you produce such kind of Lieutenants you will get same type of chiefs who donot have courage to stand up for their command,dont blame him ,blame yourself. If you dont respect your officers how the hell you expect civilians to do that. You finish his moral courage.I will also like to point out here since these things are allowed in NDA, an ex NDA is most unreliable and pliable officer who is not trusted by his colleagues, verify my statement. They are taught beg borrow or steal. How do you expect them to become good offrs. Outcome of DIrect entry is better commander as ima doesnt allow this. But unfortunately ex NDA s are always at the helm( no heart burning but a fact).
    Urgent need of the hour is to stop this practice and offr supportin this practice should be thrown out immediately.
    Yeah, i forgot onething important, court of enquiry was held and that blighter SUO would have been thrown out had my son deposed truthfully. I saved that GC as i came to know that he was a son of a Nk(a jawan) i said all efforts of a jawan in getting his son to become an offr will go down the drain for no fault of family. So i told my sin to depose to save him from expulsion.

  9. Firstly, let me point out that the page in the beginning mentions “Opinion”. Secondly, nobody’s judging the ways of our brave cadets being trained, it is just a simple concern about the well beings and an opinion on the traditional training method.

    Thirdly, please don’t see military as an institution above civilians! Civilians whole heartedly support and respect Army, but in return, if you say civilans have no right in discussing the techniques, or no right to suggest and any rubbish whatsoever, this is extremely bitter and insensible. Do I need to remind you people that those who have seen military as the untouchable institution taking no respect and acknowledgement for civilian’s opinions, have turned into a Hitler regime.
    The hard borne life of the cadets and their everlasting bravery and sacrifices are forever in our minds, and kindly remember, it is for their well being, that these articles are written. We civilans may not have that sense to decide your technique, but we do have the right to speak our mind. Beware of trying to snatch that, its a free country and military is for the country which is because of civilians. Civilians are for military with their whole heart.

    Kindly abstain from using baseless comments directing not to write anything about any institution or using “civilians” as taken for granted term.

  10. Deriding the author is indicative of a deep rooted malaise that affects all mediocres. The author may not know a thing about Army and the soldierly way of life but she is partially right in saying that Officers need to be made aware of the modern facets of warfare too that’s fought as much on the ground as away from it.
    In fact, for a long time the word officer applied to the Armed forces and definitely not to the bureaucrats. They exemplified all that was noble and brave in society.
    These qualities are still that’s the hallmark of Indian armed forces.
    Yet modernization cannot be lost sight of.

    • Whatever makes you believe that the armed forces are not seized of modernisation. Similarly… if you do not know how a organisation functions you should refrain feom commenting. As a bureaucrat the Authoe should be more inward looking and address the big malise which denies modern weapons to the armed forces.

  11. The NDA enrolls children from diff sources and makes them boys and passes them out as Men of Honor and Valor.
    The raw products or the children have to be cooked for them to be ready to take the heat of the future role, stare at the enemy’s eyes and will have to endure the good bad or ugly of the soldier life.
    Unless they are moulded properly they may not last long and would end up losing due to stress fractures.
    The media should look into the potholes on the roads terror camps by enemies at the LOC and leave the matter of training and preparation to the men who have been wearing the thick socks for ages and breathing in sub zeros.
    Siting on cushioned chair in a temperature controlled room and writing impotent content can be ignored

  12. One must be @ glacier, @ high seas, @deep in sea, @high alt in the air @ super sonic speed facing situations of quick reactions to write about prestigious Military Institution.

  13. So now civilians will decide what a premier military academy should teach and groom it’s officers? Are you guys really that much brainy to understand ethos, traditions and requirements of army?

  14. If only military training and a few years of military service is made compulsory for every Indian citizen who takes decisions for and on behalf of the country and its people, and also whose decisions and indulgences affect the country and its citizenry, irrespective of whether they are from bureaucracy, politics, business, journalism, industry , judiciary or anywhere else…..such concerns arising out of sheer ignorance could well be avoided !!

  15. I’m an ex NDA. I went through the rigours of training in the late 80s. I am a firm believer that cadets must be toughened up to undergo stress and strain so that in life, whenever they encounter tough times, they know that they have been through much more, and THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

  16. There’s a simple logic… U can’t be mentally tough if u haven’t faced any adversity… Army Officers face such tough situations which is beyond comprehension of a civilian mind… N believe me training helps…

  17. A cadet who joins any Army Training Academy has to be strong enough to face hardships and not break down. The go slow on Ragging created some real sissy offiicers who nroke down and even wept in tough conditions. We dont require such officers, but the idea of ragging be toughen up and not humiliate or molest in an obscene way to.

  18. I like the simplicity of the article….it states facts and analyses the issue beautifully.
    It’s balanced and focusses on what needs to be done to get back the lost sheen of NDA.

  19. Those all morons who are suggesting to increase the irrational ragda at NDA must be those who could not make it beyond a Col, I am sure

  20. Toughness emotional mental spiritual and physical specifically collective is the fundamental to be a winner in violance based conflicts in the terror zone, superior toughness with tempence and tranquility of mind at its collective expression against terrorism is a war winning factor
    We must be humane to helpness but not to the terrorist who feins to be helpless after the crime has been committed by the person

  21. Ratna Viswanathan please explain me what do you know about warfare, miseries faced by a soldier during war, his fears, his bravery and patriotism? Please be away from what army does and it runs training of it’s soldiers. The way I can’t comment about your so called journalism, you don’t have any right to comment about Army and it’s functioning. Do you think yourself and Print qualified enough to comment about everything in the country? I don’t see that kind of wisdom neither in you nor in The Print. Bye and happy writing

    • Before commenting personally on anyone please be mindful that this person has been Dir G in MoD.

      It will be a learning experience for you to find out the multifarious Directorates of Army that she handled then. Talk to any Offr of decent seniority in any of the operational directorates then. They will put you wise on her exceptional abilities.
      Before that she was intimately involved in raising of another premier training institute of another service.

      She has every right to comment as a well wisher of the Indian Army since she has spent her entire life dealing with such issues. In any case she has done extensive research before voicing her opinion.

      Even after her retirement and being an authority in Micro Finance, women empowerment etc she continues to engage in constructive conversation for betterment of forces which we all must respect.
      Disagree with her on issues but kindly don’t doubt her abilities or intent.

  22. Most civilians, understandably, don’t understand the rigours of a military life. Mental and physical conditioning has to match the needs of the environment that you are expected to serve in. We should expect well meaning, experienced and professional military officers posted in this fine institution, to know their job. The well being of cadets and preparing them to excel in the future is at the heart of the training of the National Defence Academy.

  23. Gen Panag was ACA Academy CDT Adjutant responsible for discipline of all cdts.It is ironical that he is now pontificating.
    War is a no holds barred ugly dirty business.It is NDA CDT traditions along with the training that make the ex NDA world class.Sissys can go home.The odd death due to bungling in the 6th term social was and is an aberration,very firmly tackled.
    When I came out finally from my Alma Mater,I found that I was a cut above others.Leave Ex NDAs to run the Academy.
    Syllabus maybe now needs a rehash.What the hell was I doing with Vector Algebra & Spherical Trignometry in the Fighter training wing and later on choppers in the Lankan war and the Siachen glacier?Gen Panag should direct his efforts to good governance not letting bureaucrats solely dominate the MOD. force ballad/
    snippets Song Of The Siachen Queen & The Mushroom Trees.

  24. Hahaha… I dont think nobody takes this author seriously.. Look who’s writing this article….a civil servant(lol)…. True bureaucrat.. This country needs to be freed from bureaucracy first… A person writing and sharing about defence services who doesn’t know its first alphabet… Now i am thinking i should write about Space programs…. Truly “The Print” have become a joke…

  25. This is the best —–where in a person who has not been anywhere close to a combat situation or a life threatening real time situation has commented on how a young soldier is to be trained.
    No one asked Saurabh Kalia, Amit Verma or many such soldiers as to how they would like to be treated. Geneva Convention Guide lines are good to read in an air-conditioned rooms, but the reality of falling in enemy’s hands is a scary situation. One needs to be prepared for that situation and ab initio training is the best place.
    Old timers are not wrong, let us not turn our young cadets in to couch potato, let them be taught how to handle difficult life situations with a calm surface.

  26. It’s the basic demand of military profession to think, decide and act instantly. However, the notion that non-constructive training plays an important role in building a soldier’s stamina and character, then the entire training syllabus and it’s imparting are flawed and badly need a revisit. Any senior officer swearing by the need of non-constructive training is merely validating a wrong procedure for the sake of a tradition having no substance. All trainings must be imparted in designated training grounds only to obviate any subjectivity as well as whims and fancies of a senior or superior.
    This is particularly applicable to any special or higher professional training courses. If someone has volunteered for any in-service course, one knows its hardships and one is mentally prepared for that hardships since the date of commencement of that particular training but not in the previous night.
    It is tantamounting to someone’s father was a matriculate and lived in hardships, then ones next generation must also be exposed and limited to same level.
    We need to change our mindset.

  27. The injured,sick junior cadets are on mercy of seniors. If seniors allow then only they move to MH. In the name of training sometime seniors take aways the Juniors from lunch, dinner table. Is this training or torture. It’s a training institute of military leader or horses? A huge napotism is there for SOSA(WHO Belongs to NDA knows well this term) . The cadets from civilian background or civilian school treated differently.

  28. I worked at the NDA as a Mathematics teacher for three-and-a-half years starting from 1979. We had a great head of department, Professor Kuldeep Singh who taught tensor analysis to the 6th term science stream students. He was very clear in his view that the function of academics at the NDA had absolutely nothing to do with imparting knowledge skills, but with disciplining the minds of the cadets to enable them to think clearly and logically for the rest of their lives…by 1979 there was no ragging in the traditional sense and no touching was allowed at all. Punishment though was meted out frequently. What was interesting in those days was a kind of seamless connection between the academic and other training. Professor Kuldeep Sigh for example was India’s swimming coach for the Tokyo Olympics who also helped train the NDA swimming team…there were several senior teachers like him who excelled on the field as well…
    I believe that the UPSC actively sought out such candidates as possible teachers. I hope this attitude towards selecting permanent academic staff is still adhered to.
    About physical punishment and discipline is considered that war is an option used by a state when all other options have been tried and have failed. When you wage war you cannot even think of failure as an option…this point must be borne in mind by those engaging in any debate concerning punish procedures at the NDA.

  29. Being an ex NDA, all I can say is please don’t interfere with how the NDA functions. It’s an institution that has weathered many years. Has produced excellent products and in short is an Institution I would any day return to. Either to train or to teach in. Sukhwant Singh

  30. Officership in modern war requires quick and sound decision making under stress of uncertainty and danger to life and limb . On this decision would rest not only success of mission but also the life of his/her men. Grave responsibilty that demands high intellect and character . The selection process and training of future officers be harmonised to ensure identification and development of these personality aspects unique to military profession. Training at NDA is for young teens from present diverse socio economic backgrounds. The challenge is different than graduate entry institutes.

  31. I wonder what gives the author the authority to comment on a culture which has stood the test of the time. Sir, the ‘ragging’ as you call it however reprehensible to you has saved lives and provided the necessary psy build up to face a enemy who is often sans ethics and morals. Something your elk will never be able to comprehend. Wouldn’t you rather research on falling standards and morals of bureaucrats who would go to any extent to put down and demoralise the armed forces to meet their own perdonal ageda?? Just to remind you sir… there is no reservation in the army… every one of us is as worthy as the next.

  32. Annually NDA trains many more cadets than 400 as mentioned here. On an average in a course the intake is 325 to 350 cadets. And there are two courses which join NDA a year.Thus the yearly intake is 650 to 700 cadets. If one takes about 15.% drop out rate then the number of cadets is 550 to 600 in a year.
    At any given time there are cadets from 6 courses undergoing training in NDA. This the strength is between 1650 to 1800 cadets. If we add the foreign cadets from friendly countries who undergo training there, the number of cadets could be 1750 to 2000.
    The mess has sitting arrangments for 2000 cadets.

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