Thursday, 13 March 2008

The Question of Dalit and Muslim Representation in the Armed Forces

The Question of Dalit and Muslim Representation in the Armed Forces- SR Darapuri
Our country being a representative democracy has adopted the concept of representative institutions .At present there are only two exceptions to it - one being the higher judiciary and the other being the Army because there is nothing like reservation to ensure presence of all communities. Hence it is the high time that these institutions are also tested on the principle of representative institutions.
It is universally accepted that army service has much importance in public life. Army service is not only a means of earning livelihood, but it also inculcates discipline, secular values, bravery, nationalism and frankness in its members. That is why in “Parhar " film Nana Patekar advocates at least 10 years' army service for every able bodied Indian. If it is true then is it not desirable that every citizen of India should be given the opportunity to develop the above good qualities. Now let us see if in practice every citizen of India is getting an equal opportunity or not.
It is well known that out of the total population of India the Muslims constitute about 14 % and the Dalits ( Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes ) about 25 % but their share in the public services is much less than their percentage of population. Now if we take the Army, as given out in the press the share of Muslims is less than one percent. The real position can be known only when actual statistics are known. It is also known that for some reasons the statistics of representation of various castes and communities in the army are not made public. Even then some statistics of representation of Dalits in army are available in the 27th Report (1979-81) of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) under the sub head" Armed Forces"(page 63-64) which are being reproduced below:-
"Para 3.61 - Regarding recruitment of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, there is not so far in operation the provision of Reservation. Otherwise efforts were made to collect the statistics showing representation of SCs. and STs. in the Army. Although the Ministry of Defense failed to make available the actual number of SCs and STs But even then as on 1.1.80 the percentage of SCs and STs as compared to the total number of Armed Forces is reproduced below. Similar information as on 1.1.81has not become available so far.

Name of Rank of Class--------- Comparative percentage of SCs and Service STs to the total number of men in the Armed Forces ---------------------------------------------SCs STs

Infantry Officers (Nursing Officers included) ---------------------------0.44 , 0.23
J.C.Os / O.R. ----------------------------------------------------------10.66 ,2.56

Navy Officers ,--------------------------------------------------------- Not available
Navy Soldiers -----------------------------------------------------------7.3 ,1.1

Air Force Officers-------------------------------------------------------- 0.156, 0.067
Air Men------------------------------------------------------------------ 2.568, 0.003

Thus the above statistics indicate that among various ranks (grades) of Armed Forces except J.C.Os in Infantry and Navy soldiers in Navy, the representation of SCs and STs is very low. It is true that the Govt. has taken some steps to improve the representation of SCs and STs in the Defence Forces e.g. entry of SC and ST boys in Sainik Schools with relaxed standards and the scheme of giving scholarships to those who qualify in the Entrance Test, but no significant improvement has taken place in this regard. As mentioned in various previous reports, it is felt that so long as reservation is not introduced in recruitment to the Army in respect of SCs and STs, it will not be possible to improve the situation in the near future. The desirability of Pre-Selection Training of SC and ST candidates desirous of service in Defense Forces can also be considered."
Although the above statistics are 25 years old but even then a significant change is not expected in the present situation because during this period no change has been introduced in the Army recruiting policy or methodology. As such there is no alternative but to take the situation as before.
When the representation of Dalits and Muslims who constitute about 40 % of Indian population is so low in the Armed Forces, inner composition and its effects on its performance and nature can well imagined. Is it not necessary in the interest of social justice, national security and balanced composition of the Armed Forces that adequate representation of Dalits and Muslims should be ensured so as to ward off consequential distortions? A few years ago a similar situation prevailed in the Police and other Para Military Forces but the introduction of reservation has significantly changed the situation .Will it not be proper to think of adopting a similar system in Army also without compromising the merit as claimed?
It is well known that the Muslims had a high presence in Army before 1947 which got reduced due to the transfer of some Muslim Regiments to Pakistan where as the population of Muslims continues to quite high in India but their presence in the Army is said to be less than one percent which should be a cause for worry. Similarly the presence of Dalits in the Army has gone down after the abolition of some Dalit Regiments in 1947.The Dalits have played a significant role in the development of Armed Forces in India since the advent of British in India. Let us have a look at the history of Armed Forces of India.
In the beginning, the East India Company had to fight against the French in India. For this purpose the East India Company which was primarily formed for trade in India had to impart military training to the watchmen recruited in Madras and Gujrat and they continued to protect the property of the Company. Bye and bye these groups took the shape of military groups. In Madras the so called Untouchables and lower castes entered in sufficient numbers the forces of Lord Clive. Later on East India Company enlisted three Commands e.g. Madras, Bombay and Bengal Army .Madras and Bombay Armies consisted of men of all castes and religions but the Bengal Army had men from U.P. and Bihar states that came forward to enter the Army. They had Doms, Dhanuks, Mehtars,Chamars along with Afgans, Turks and Mughals who were prepared to fight against any body for money. On the other hand Brahmins and Rajputs being fair colored and of stout built were liked by Englishmen. One of the methods of recruitment to the Company Forces was that the men proceeding on leave were asked to bring with them the young men on return for enlistment in the Army. Every soldier preferred his own cousins and caste men. As such the number of Brahmins continued to rise in Bengal Army. As the number of Brahmins and Rajputs increased, the number of Untouchables and lower castes decreased due to untouchability. Caste system and the presence of family members in large numbers is antagonistic to the maintenance of discipline in any organization. That was the reason why before 1857 as many as 70 revolts took place in Bengal Army. After this revolt the British tried to reorganize the Army. After 1892, the doors of the Army were shut down for Dalits. But recruitment was made from amongst those classes and castes who had sided with the British during the 1857 revolt. A new theory of Martial and Non Martial Races was invented. Only those who were declared to be Martial Races were recruited in to the Army. During 1914-18 War large number of Indian soldiers was killed in Europe and Turkey. New Regiments were raised in Caste names which were labeled as Class Regiments.
It became difficult to make recruitment to caste and class regiments. Hence the process of recruitment of close caste relations was discontinued. Again during 1939-46 War, a large number of men had to be recruited as the British were fighting Germany and Italy in Europe and Africa, away from Indian borders. Among them many Dalit Regiments namely Mahar, Mazhbi, Chamar, Ramdassia, Chuhra Christians etc. were raised who displayed their bravery in many foreign lands, and The British praised them like anything. Dr. Ambedkar also made all out efforts for getting the Dalits into the Army.
In 1947 the British left India but the caste regiments especially in Infantry continued to exist. Gradually Class Regiments were abolished. The Untouchable Caste Regiments especially fell prey to it. Chamar Regiment and such other regiments were abolished leaving behind only two e.g. Mahar and Mazhbi Regiments which was renamed as Sikh Light Infantry Regiment. Changes were introduced in them also. At many places, the name of Class Regiment has been retained but men are recruited from various castes. Babu Jagjivan Ram issued an important order during his tenure as Defence Minister by which the distinction between combatants and non combatants was abolished. Before that in Army the Langris, Cooks, Bearers, Bhishties, Chaukidars, Mehtars, Dhobies etc. were not given army training e.g. weapon firing and battle training etc. This historic decision resulted in thousands of non combatants getting battle training and they also became soldiers of equal rank. But the caste system did not totally disappear from Army. Navy and Air Force are free from caste system to very good extent because their recruitment is made from different castes / communities and the level of education is also high.
The continuation of caste system in Infantry is also the result of long tradition which continues till today. The other reason is the Recruiting Officers and Medical Officers working with them. The third reason is the corruption. It is often complained that at many places the Recruiting Officers demand money from the candidates. The Recruiting Officers are generally retired or honorary Captains who seldom rise above caste prejudices and considerations. It happens some times that a Dalit candidate is rejected by asking his caste name and the same boy gets selected after sometime when he changes his caste name or passes off as a Christian. But selection to the Officer Rank involves passing a written examination which is announced by Central Govt. in various news papers. Even after passing the written examination, there is a scope for asking caste related questions during interview.
Now in question with the counting of the number of Muslims in the Army, it is repeatedly being emphasized that army recruitment is totally based on merit but in view of the miniscule presence of Dalits and Muslims in Army it is important to honestly review the application of the principle of merit in actual practice. If the representation of Dalits in Police and other Para Military Organizations can be ensured through reservation then why cannot the same be considered in the case of Army also without compromising the merit? Some steps regarding securing the entry of Muslims can also be considered so that our Armed Forces truly become the representative of national ethos.

S.R.Darapuri I.P.S.( Retired )

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