The Indian army is expected to remain a truly secular institution, without any prejudice or bias towards any religion, caste or creed. The Chiefs of this national army have come from different religious backgrounds. But interestingly, none came from the Muslim community. The [much-talked] Sachar Committee which was formed by the government to map the Muslim participation in different social and economic spheres in the country recommended the headcount of Muslims in different levels of the army some years ago. However, the idea of Muslim headcount in the army was strongly resisted by the then Army chief, General JJ Singh, who said that any such survey would dent the core of the institution. But there was no harm in getting the information as the government has the right to know the current status of Muslims in India. National security should be a top concern for the government. But to know how the community is faring in all terms of development must also be welcomed as it may help the government chalk out various schemes to improve the social status of the backward community.
But this hue and cry then did not remain confined to the army HQs only. In January 2006, L.K. Advani, then Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, walked out from the house obviously over the proposal of Muslim headcount in the army. But Why Mr. Advani & Company was so afraid by the idea of Muslim headcount in Indian Army? What was so offensive, secret or classified info hidden in it? There have been similar surveys in police and paramilitary forces in the country.
Why Muslim headcount in Army necessary?
In fact there are four important reasons which support the move of the Muslim headcount in the army.
1. The Sachar Committee was constituted to look into the representation of Muslims in various segments of private and public sector employment. So if it was seeking the details of Muslim employees in various levels, what was the fuss about this information in the armed forces?
2. Army already has region or community based regiments in place since British colonial days. The battle cries are based on religion and gods of different religions. Then why there was all this noise about Muslim headcount?
3. Muslims are underrepresented in the army. To rectify it we ought to take a headcount in the first step. This has already been done in the police and paramilitary. So why should army object to this?
4. And most importantly, the army chief is to serve the government as we have seen in the case of incumbent army chief, his valid grievance and the outcome so far, then why the then army chief questioned a decision of the government? And if, is it acceptable in a democracy?
Perhaps the reasons for keeping things such secretly wrapped are the substandard statistics of Muslims serving the army. While there is no official report, but the strength of Muslims is roughly around 2% and the figure comes around 29,000 in the million-strong Indian army, according to a news channel survey programme titled Minority Report. And If the number of Muslims serving in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) infantry that has over 50% Muslims and those in other wings not directly dealing with warfare are excluded, the proportion is definitely too low. So out of a Muslim population of nearly 20 crores, barely 29,000 Muslims were found suitable for Indian Army. Is it not pathetic!
Adding to the woes it’s equally regretful that there has not been a single Muslim Army Chief except Air Chief Marshal Idris Hasan Latif, PVSM who as the first Muslim Chief of Air Staff of the IAF was involved fully in the re-equipment and modernization plans of the air force. He convinced the government to approve the procurement of the Jaguar strike aircraft, a proposal which was lying dormant for over 8 years. He also held negotiations with the Russians and saw the induction of the MiG-23 and later, the MiG-25 aircraft into the IAF. And what could be more unfortunate than the incident that even Rasoolan Bibi, wife (widow) of Hawaldar Abdul Hameed- who was conferred the nation’s highest gallantry award Param Vir Chakra posthumously during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, literally had to beg President Pratibha Patil’s intervention to get her cataract operated in 2008.
But coming back to the real issue, the reason for the Muslim under-representation in the Indian army lies partly in history, and its public revelation must harm nobody. Whatever the exact percentage, a huge Muslim under-representation in our army is a fact. So is a huge Sikh over-representation. See the contrast. Sikhs form 1.86 per cent of India’s population but number around 8 per cent in the Indian army. While Muslims comprise about 18 per cent of India’s population but are 2 per cent in the army. Why is this truth about Muslim under-representation in the armed forces going censored? But an illogical love of confidentiality causes Indian rulers to hide information whose public admission would harm nobody. Just as Muslims are under-represented in the army, so are the Bengalis, Biharis, Oriyas, south Indians or Gujaratis. And just as Sikhs are over-represented, so are the Jats, Dogras, Garhwalis, Kumaonis, Gurkhas, Marathas and others. The Indian army’s recruitment pattern was set 150 years ago by India’s 1857 uprising. Shocked by the revolt, the British army adopted a recruitment strategy that punished the groups which rebelled against them and rewarded the ones that stayed trustworthy. Because Muslims of Awadh, Bihar and West Bengal led the uprising against the British, the British army stopped hiring soldiers from these areas. Also blacklisted from these places were high-caste Hindus whose regiments in Bengal were also mutineers. In disparity, the British raised the recruitment of castes that had stood by the British to put down the revolution and honored as martial races, they received preferential treatment in army recruitment for the following 90 years. Like any institution, the Indian army is a prisoner of the past.
Even today, the Indian Army favors enlisting men from the martial races. Their over-representation in the Indian army is enormous and figures bear this out. Of 2.87 lakh jawans hired by the army in between 2004 to 2006, a disproportionate 44,471 came from three “martial” states, Punjab, Haryana, and the mountain state of Uttaranchal. So these states which account for 5 per cent of India’s population provided 15 per cent of India’s army jawans.
In contrast, the fewest recruits came from “non-martial” West Bengal and Bihar. These two states account for 30 per cent of India’s population, but they provided only 14 per cent of army jawans in this three-year period. So the Indian army has not only a religion-based disparity in recruitment, but also one based on caste and region. A glimpse of this discrimination was provided by a press release issued by a defence office in Jammu ten years ago. Seeking recruits for the Indian army, the press release said: “No vacancies for Muslims and tradesmen.” Meaning that aggressive Dogras were welcome to apply, but not Hindu business castes like the Baniyas and the Khatris.
Why does India have separate regiments for the Sikhs, Jats, Dogras, Garhwalis, Kumaonis, Mahars, the Nagas, even the Gurkhas, but not a single regiment for the Muslims? This is tragic but it’s the truth which shouldn’t be suppressed. It should be recognized and dealt with. Muslim under-recruitment in the Indian army is an outcome of Partition. India and Pakistan’s antagonism is seen in both countries as Hindu versus Muslim terms, which is absolutely incorrect. But this chauvinism in itself discourages qualified Muslim youths from applying, which drives down Muslim numbers even more. Hence it’s quite right that the Muslims under-recruitment in the army strips the community of a good, life-long source of employment. It’s a sad situation which is not so easy to correct.
India’s armed forces are averse to hire Muslims as soldiers because they suspect the community’s loyalty to India. This discrimination is a natural outcome of the bitter rivalry between India and Pakistan over 60 years. In similar situations, the same thing happens all over the world. The Israeli army doesn’t trust its Arab soldiers in jobs related to defence security. The Buddhist Sinhalese army under-recruits its Hindu Tamils for fear that their sympathies could lie with the Tamil Tigers. And After 9/11, US army recruiters would probably screen a Muslim American volunteer more thoroughly than a Christian
This under-representation of Muslims and other caste or regional groups benefits the over-represented ones. The composition of the Indian army is totally awry numbers-wise. West Bengal’s population is eight times that of Uttaranchal. But Uttaranchal provided almost the same number of army recruits as West Bengal almost every year. Compare a “martial” Punjab with a non-martial Gujarat. Punjab’s population is half that of Gujarat. But it provided four times as many people to the Indian army as Gujarat. The Indian army hired far more recruits in Rajasthan than in Tamil Nadu though Tamil Nadu’s population is higher. So basically, the Indian army is subjugated numbers-wise by Sikhs and Hindi-speaking Hindus of north India. This imperfect current status quo must go. Why Muslims are expected to wear patriotism on their sleeves and there is absolutely no reason to disbelieve or distrust people of this community. Muslims are as much Indian as any other in this country and have always stood firmly on the forefront whenever there’s a call of duty for the country. A few untoward stray incidents must not stand in account for the test of loyalty always, as because going by such biased benchmark it may initiate an awful precedent. As many such incidents had offenders, perpetrators who were not from the minority community.
This unwritten divisive law of mistrust and bias must go. But none of it will end until we help make these things end by taking some proactive steps. This current state of mind and pertinent approach will only lead to more divergence and separation between the largest minority (Muslims) and the ruling majority (Hindus). And the entire country will be perpetually distrustful, forever looking over our shoulders and living a life in fear, that fear framed by metal detectors, security cameras, and sharp glances at people who appear to be with grown beard and a skull cap. Hence in the end following the chart below will enlighten the vocabulary of the people who presume Muslims as alien or anti Indians.