Some Indian Hindu’s need for the supreme and pure divine: the Army – always secular, and without any regional or ethnic bias

Posted on August 10, 2008. Filed under: Army, India, Kashmir, Muslims, Pakistan, Politics |

Recent comments from obvious Indian “Hindus” who think that any negative criticism of aspects of the functioning of the Indian Army is a critcism inspired by “blindly communal” feelings, prompted me to look into the apparent need in some Hindu minds to construct a supreme “divine”, an ultimate icon of reliability and “purity” making up for whatever the Hindu feels insecure about.

Let us look into the “secular” and “unbiased” aspects of the Indian Army, so fervently declared by VKDas and YamirB.

Recruitment Policy

The British East India Company created three ethnically mixed armies, one each in the three presidencies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay (Bengal Army was predominantly high-caste Hindus and Muslims of Oudh and Bihar). In the 1857 First Indian anti-British Uprising, majority of the Bengal Army rebelled or were pre-emptively disarmed, while the Madras and Bombay Armies remained mostly loyal, and fought with distinction against their rebellious counterparts. In contrast to the upper-caste Hindu and Muslim soldiers of the Bengal Army, Sikhs and other Punjabis, Garwalis and the Gurkhas in the same army actively fought for the British. Post rebellion, the British rewarded the Dogras, Garhwalis, Gurkhas, Pathans, and Punjabis- whether Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh- the so-called “martial races.” The martial races theory predates the mutiny, according to some historians according to which some Indian “races” (actually ethno-religious groups) such as the Dogras, Garhwalis, Gurkhas, Kumaonis, Marathas, Pathans and Punjabis (of all religious affiliation); Rajputs: as well as Hindustani, Deccani and Moplah Muslims make good soldiers (meaning they remain loyal to those who pay them above and any other considerations of religion, or nationality). The martial races could also have been constructed out of affinity with emerging British racism based on Caucasoid/White European physical body types. The recruitment to the army along constructed military qualities of certain groups was carried out from 1858 to 1939. The colonial British Indian army therefore formed along ethnic lines with Dogra, Garhwali, Gurkha, Jat, Kumaon, Mahar and Sikh regiments- the socalled “one class.” There were also “fixed class” units – a regiment or battalion having two to three classes, but with each of its subunits belonging to “one class”. Finally, there was the “mixed class,” comprising soldiers from different groups. The much smaller non-combatant supporting services  were composed of men from all ethnic, caste and regional groups. Officers of this army were British, while Indians were admitted to the ranks only after world War I. Officer recruitment was based on social class and loyalty to the Raj.

Although large-scale recruitment of Muslim ethnic groups took place, there were no pure Muslim regiments – probably stemming from iconic role of the Mughal Badhsah in the Great Uprising and continued pan-Islamic intrigue with Afghans by sections of Indian Muslims. World War II in 1939 required relaxation of the martial races theory and led to increased the recruitment of soldiers from non-martial races because of the manpower shortage. After the end of WWII, there was some demobilisation and the policy of recruitment reverted to the pre-war patten.

The Indian National Congress criticized this policy as restrictive and discriminatory. Nirad C. Chadhuri (1935), an avowedly sympathetic writer towards British culture, argued that “a national army” recruited from all parts of the country will be “animated by a national spirit”. “It should be a self-contained fighting machine able to do without the help and guidance of foreigners and, above all, it should foster the military capacity of the whole nation and be directly related to it.” On 14 February 1947, the Secretary of Defence Ministry said in the Central Legislative Assembly that it was the government’s policy to do away with the distinction between martial and non-martial races in recruiting. Since the soldiers were already Indians, the nationalists demanded full “Indianization”- the opening of the officer level for the natives of India. During the partition, the British Indian army was still largely composed of soldiers of the “martial races” and junior officers of Indian origin, while the higher officers were all British. The army had 30-36% Muslims, 8% Sikhs, with the remainder predominantly Hindu, including Gurkhas, Indian Christians and Anglo-Indians.

In mid-August 1947, at independence, the British officers left the subcontinent. By the terms of partition, soldiers and officers of the Raj’s army were given the choice of joining the forces of India or Pakistan. Most of the predominantly Punjabi or Pathan Muslim soldiers chose Pakistan. But 215 Muslim commissioned officers and 339 VCOs (Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers, later called Junior Commissioned Officers), chose India, according to the Ministry of Defence. Among these were officers such as Brigadiers Muhammad Usman and Muhammad Anis Ahmad Khan, Lt. Col. Enayat Habibullah. Partition divided the Muslim nobility – Major Yunus of the influential Rampur aristocracy remained in India, while Sahibzada Yaqub KhanYaqub, chose Pakistan and became its foreign minister in the 80s.

A highly significant proof of the nationalism, and lack of regional, political or ideological bias of the post-Indpendence Indian Army as donated by the British to the Congress government was the refusal of the Army or the Defence ministries to absorb or restore the captured and surrendered soldiers of the Indian National Army (whose loyalty to the nation was vouched for by Nehru himself in his very emotional speeches before the angry mass sentiments in favour of the INA – but promptly obliterated from Nehruvian memory once the popular crisis passed) into the new Indian Army. Similar were the the treatment of the Indian Naval forces in 1948 who had mutinied against the British, and who were tricked by leaders of the stature of Gandhiji, and Nehru into surrendering to the British. Service records of those who had gone against the British were maintained to penalize them after Independence, whereas those who had remained loyal to the British were rewarded. One strange case here is ofcourse that of the WWII overseas Indian volunteers, who fought for the British in the African theatre as well as in the European theatre of the Allied invasions. It is probable that highlighting their case too much could have been an embarassment for the British, as even now, some British openly declare on public media that “they never heard of any f*** Pa.. or In.. of having fought in WWII – my [relative who was in the war] never saw any!”, and the loyal new “Indian government” obliged their “British friends”.

When India went to war against Pakistan over Kashmir in 1947 Brig. Muhammad Usman died fighting for India, earning him a posthumous gallantry award. A year later, during India’s military operation in Hyderabad, Operation Polo, about 700 Muslims left the army after it invaded Hyderabad. Maj.Gen. Muhammad Anis Ahmed Khan, who opted for India and was promoted to a Major-General, gained access to secret information and then retired voluntarily in 1955 and at once settled down in Pakistan, accepting a Pakistan government post. Organiser published the views of the former Indian Army Commander-in-chief Gen. K.M. Cariappa., that Muslim “Loyalty seems to be primarily to Pakistan. This is a crime unpardonable. This is also the impression of a large percentage of non-Muslim intellectuals in India. Here is the root cause for there being a none-too-happy feeling towards Muslims by a large percentage of the majority… This is understandable.” Raju Thomas, an American academic who interviewed army officers, found that “when the [India-Pakistan] war began in September 1965, a Muslim majority battalion of the Rajput Regiment stationed in the crucial Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir, far from being hastily withdrawn, was allowed to play its part in the execution of the army’s forward actions. According to several high-ranking Indian army officers, the fact that the battalion did not flinch and carried out its assigned role with considerable credit, sufficiently dispelled worry- at least within the military- about the loyalty of Indian Muslim soldiers.” However, Daljit and Katherine Singh, “were able to find not a single Muslim officer above the rank of a major-general occupying a responsible position of military command.”

In 1953, Nehru noted the absence of Muslims from the army in a communication addressed to the chief ministries, observing that “in our Defense Services, there are hardly any Muslims left… What concerns me most is that there is no effort being made to improve this situation, which is likely to grow worse unless checked.” Mohair Tyagi, the Minister of State for Defense told the Aligarh University Union that in 1953, “the percentage of Muslims in the armed forces forces, which was 32 percent at the time of partition” had come down to around 2 percent. Before independence, the Kashmir’s Dogra Maharaja’s Force consisted of Dogras and Sikhs, with some Muslims, but not Kashmir Valley Muslims, who were excluded from the state army as matter of policy. In October 1947, the State Force’s Muslim soldiers rebelled and joined the Pakistan-supported tribal invasion.

To be continued…..

1. David Omissi, “Martial Races: Ethnicity and Security in Colonial Indian 1858-1939.” War & Society vol. 9, no. 1 (May 1991).
2. Indian Army Handbook. Muslims: P.Holland – Proyor, Mapplias or Moplahs, 1903;R.M. Bethan, Marathas and Dekhani Musalmans, 1908; R.T. Ridgreway, Pathans, 1910; W.F.G. Bourne, Hindustani and Musalmans of the Eastern Punjab, 1914; and Punjabi Musalmans, 1915; (Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing).

3. Defence of India or Nationalization of Indian Army, Congress Golden Jubilee Brochure no.8 (Allahabad: All India Congress Committee, 1935).

4. Daljit and Katherine Singh, “The Military Elites and Problems of National Integration in India and Pakistan.” Indian Journal of Politics, vol. 7, 2 (1973);

5. K.M Cariappa, Organiser (15 August 1964).
6. Raju G.C Thomas and Bharat Karnad, ” The Military and National Integration in India, “in Ethnicity, Integration and the Military, Henry Dietz, Jerrold Elkin, and Maurice Roumani, eds. (Boulder, CO: West View Press, 1991).


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