ALI AHMED | 19 FEBRUARY, 2020
Whose Army is it Anyway?
The social base of induction into the army has narrowed
My father having once been commandant of the Indian Military Academy receives a complimentary copy of the IMA’s biannual journal that covers happenings at the academy over the past term. Visiting on holiday, I leisurely leaf through the journal to catch up on my alma mater from which I was commissioned in summer 1987. In this article I share an observation on the IMA, hoping to redflag a trend I have spotted from my scrolling through some ten journals in some detail over the last decade.
Perusing through the Autumn Term 2019 issue I found not a single Muslim Indian officer listed in the faculty, and only one Muslim Indian gentleman cadet (GC) listed among the 306 passing out comprising the 145th Regular and 128th Technical Graduates courses. There are however 54 Muslim GCs of friendly foreign countries, including 50 from Afghanistan and their two Afghan army officer instructors.
There is no Muslim Indian officer in the lists below group photos of the headquarters and administrative staff, the training team, the academic department and the Army Cadet College Wing. Below the group photo of the commandant with all officers of the academy, of the 123 officers listed, none are Muslim Indians. Two Afghan officers are listed. Of the 59 officers posted in and out of IMA during the term, none was Muslim.
Of the 146 instructors below officer rank, there are two Muslims in the training team, one in the drill section, and one with the weapon training section. Of these four, only one is a junior commissioned officer. Three Muslims are with the equitation section, of whom two are junior commissioned officer level – only because the only equitation unit in the Indian army, the 61 Cavalry, has a proportion of Muslims. There is no Muslim in the Physical Training Section.
There is a lone Muslim Indian GC, Shahid Shah, most likely from Kashmir. He is also the lone Muslim to figure in the group photo of GC appointments with the commandant, having made it to the lowest GC appointment of Cadet Quarter Master Sergeant.
While this is the state of the passing out course, I looked forward to spotting some Muslim Indians amongst the academy sports teams, since they also list GCs of the junior course on the team. Not a single Indian Muslim figures in the nine academy sports team photos or the combined group photo, suggesting that the forthcoming passing-out course of summer 2020 will also be rather lean in Muslim Indian representation, and with no outstanding Muslim gracing its numbers. There is also not a single Indian Muslim name in the writeups on hobbies and clubs, such as the names of winners of debates etc.
To substantiate that this is a long standing trend incontrovertibly, below are extracts from my earlier articles in various journals highlighting this as a troubling aspect, calling out for enlightened intervention:
. “A perusal of six editions of the biannual IMA journal over the period 2005–11, covering about half of the seven-year period, led to a tally of 50 Muslim officers having passed out of the IMA. This suggests that about 2% were Muslim, excluding those from friendly foreign countries. In the academy journal’s Spring Term 2016 edition, on the 137th Regular and 120th Technical Graduates’ course, nine out of 469 or 1.9% of the officers having passed out were Muslims. The figure from the 2016 Autumn Term is five GCs with Muslim names out of 403 GCs. The figure goes up thrice over, to 14 GCs for the following course, Spring 2017, that had 423 GCs in all. In effect, Muslims constituted 2.1% of those taking the Antim Pag, the ‘final step’ of training, also the first step as an officer, to the lilt of ‘Auld Lang Syne’.”
. “The problem appears to be worsening. The latest National Defence Academy course at Pune commencing in January 2018 and consisting of 371 cadets (including those bound for the air force and navy) has only four Muslims. Only two Muslims joined the 153 cadets of the 10+2 Technical Entry Scheme course that commenced in January 2018 in Gaya. In the Direct Entry course that commenced at the IMA in January 2018, only one Muslim GC featured in the list of 103 names. Only one of the nine who joined the Army Education Corps course commencing in January was Muslim. One Muslim figured in the list of the 59 who joined the Technical Graduates course at the IMA. Of the 705 Indian youth signing up for an army officer career at the start of 2018, Indian Muslims could not even make it to double digits.”
. “The IMA journals perused for data reveal only one Muslim as having figured in the top GC appointments (34 appointments per course) at the battalion and company levels. In the two recent courses examined (Autumn 2016 and Spring 2017) only two Muslims held a ‘tabbed’ appointment as the lower-rung Junior Under Officers, responsible for a platoon (the subordinate grouping to a company). Of the surfeit of academy awards, only one Muslim GC received a mention for meritorious performance in equestrian sports.”
. “There were no Muslim officer instructors in two of the terms examined, one each in 2008 and 2011. In the latest two editions of the journal, there was a single Muslim major visible in the IMA Autumn 2016 edition and two in the Spring 2017 edition.”
. “The Platinum Jubilee issue of the magazine of the IMA, published in 2007, has some revealing tidbits of information. Only six Muslim officers who have passed out of the IMA have made the supreme sacrifice for the country since the 1971 War. Only one, the late Captain Haneefuddin of Kargil fame, has been awarded a higher gallantry medal, a Vir Chakra, since then. Only one Muslim Gentleman Cadet has won the Academy’s Sword of Honour post Independence, with that award being won way back in 1973.”
. “From the two IMA magazine issues in 2005, it is evident that only eight Muslims passed out of the portals of the institution to become commissioned officers. In the Spring Term 2006, there were eight Muslims commissioned. In the Spring Term 2007, nine Muslims took the ‘Antim Pag’ or ‘Last Step’ as GCs, but their first step as commissioned officers, of the 555 taking commission that term. The following Spring Term, 11 Muslim GCs passed out of 611. In the Autumn Term 2011, 14 Muslims passed out. However, this last figure includes those from friendly foreign countries such as Afghanistan.”
. “In other words, of the six magazines perused for ascertaining the numbers of Muslims gaining the officer commission from the IMA, 45 have made the grade. Assuming some were from foreign countries, less than 40 Indian Muslims have made it over two-and-a-half years into the Army from IMA.”
. “A concerning figure, but less remarked upon, is that of the 291 cadets of the passing-out course from the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, in the Spring Term 2019, only five were Indian Muslims; all of 1.7 per cent. The figure is from the NDA’s magazine, Trishakti. In contrast, seven cadets are from foreign countries. Among the 132 names below photos of the faculty, only one was Muslim. Two junior commissioned officer-instructors were Muslim, both unsurprisingly in the equitation section since the only horsed cavalry regiment is 61 Cavalry.”
. “The IMA’s Spring Term 2016 edition figure is that of the 469 GCs of the 137 Regular and 120 Technical Graduates courses commissioned on 12 December 2015, nine were Muslims, making a percentage of 1.9 per cent.”
. “A leading military school in the country recently compiled the list of cadets that had entered its portals ever since it was founded pre-Independence. Of 2,896 cadets that have entered its precincts since Independence, only 28 had Muslim names.”
A similar exercise can be undertaken to see if there is similar institutional absence of the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Caste communities. It can be hazarded that even if these comprise one per cent each, the tentative percentage from the disadvantaged communities comprising some 45 per cent of India’s population is about 5 per cent, implying a deficit of nine times over.
The finding here is that the Indian army is not representative of all India’. From the profiles of the thirty-odd higher GC appointments of battalion level, only five were from other than north India. My suspicion is that the under-representation is to the benefit of north Indian, Hindi speaking, Hindu communities of the erstwhile ‘martial classes’ and emergent Other Backward Classes.
This narrowing of the social base of induction into the Indian army can only have long term, mostly negative, repercussions. The new Department of Military Affairs must introspect.
Ali Ahmed redeploys as a senior political affairs officer with a UN peacekeeping mission in end February.
Cover: Kargil War veteran Captain Mohammed Sanaullah freed from a detention camp in Goalpara, Assam last June.
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