The post-independence Indian Army continues to struggle with the British colonial model, ways and traditions, which served us well to a point. In fact, we were so enamored by the British ethos that we ceased to introspect about any adaptations that the uniqueness of this land and its changing values demanded. More so, because, at least for four decades and may be even more, the changes in the country were slow, therefore imperceptible.
Apart from other factors, technology is the key determinant of social and economic change. Technology enables social and cultural mobility. Before the advent of the railways, India was frozen in a time-frame of a thousand years. The society was basically agricultural, characterized by little mobility and emphasis on manpower. Joint family systems were therefore an economic necessity. The villages were independent economic units, well-served by the division of labour and hence the caste system.
The military is not only a profession, but a way of life. Institutional ethos, practices and culture of the military is much dictated by the existing threat perception, advances in technology, prosperity and educational levels of men who serve the military.
The advent of the railways, increased mobility and began to challenge the caste system in a modest way, as passengers of all castes and classes were compelled to travel together. But the impact was little. Edmund Candler in his book, The Sepoy, published in 1919 says: “I know a Rajput class regiment in which it took ten years to introduce the messing system. The Company cooking pots were accepted at first, but with no economy of space or time, for the vessels were handed round and each men use them to cook his own food in turn. The Brahmins are even more fastidious. I remember watching a class regiment at their meal in Essen position. Each man had ruled out his own pitch, and a Turk would have taken the battalion for a brigade.” This practice was observed in some Indian units even during World War II, but to a lesser degree. In one instance, in a Signal Company, the Jat troops did not have their meal because a British Officer had touched the pre-cooked items during his inspection of the company cook house.
The military is not only a profession, but a way of life. Institutional ethos, practices and culture of the military is much dictated by the existing threat perception, advances in technology, prosperity and educational levels of men who serve the military. For example, the necessity and emphasis on drill was because of the demands of musketry. The British Indian Army also underwent tremendous changes due to the change in threat perception and technology.
The East India Company expanded its rule in India with the help of Native Regiments they had raised. These regiments were basically composed of Rajputs, Brahmins and to an extent, Muslims from the Oudh region, constituting parts of present day UP and Bihar. Later, three presidency armies were raised, but soldiers in large numbers from the Oudh region served in the Bombay and Madras presidency armies as well. During that period, the threat perception was entirely internal and therefore there was no imperative for a military culture. Moreover, the Indians served only in subordinate ranks and therefore there was no emphasis on the individual growth of Indian troops. Nor, could the British impose any new social values on their men, who despite their poor economic conditions felt morally and culturally superior to their British masters.
The native troops therefore segregated themselves caste-wise in the areas where they were stationed. With the passage of time, as the expanse of the British Empire grew, the concept of cantonments was introduced, and the culture of cantonment life grew gradually. It also gave rise to the compartmentalization of civil and military spheres. The 1857 War of Independence or the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ changed the professional and cultural ethos of the British Indian Army. It gave rise to the concept of a ‘martial race’. But the British did very little towards the educational upliftment of their troops belonging to the same martial races, as soldiering and education were seen antagonistic.
The soldiers therefore had hardly any avenue of personal growth. Later, the threat perception from Russia and the consequent importance of the NWFP resulted in the development of communication systems in Punjab, giving fillip to the agricultural economy of the region. During the First and Second World Wars, the threat to the British Empire was global. One of the major outcomes of the First World War in the Indian context was that Indian officers began to be inducted into the army. The period between World War I and II gave rise to the military culture that persists even today. The critical threat posed to the Allied powers during World War II, compelled the British to carryout massive recruitment and they were compelled to repudiate their martial race approach, as the so called martial races could not fulfill the manpower requirements.
The growing materialism and consumerism has created a segment of upstarts, who value materialism over character and enduring values. The army as a profession, where sacrifice of many personal comforts and life a such is involved, can ill-afford to be consumed by this phenomenon.
However, we in the Indian Army, though not explicitly stated, continued to suffer from the martial race theory. We continued to suffer from caste and class based ideas. It was also because of slow and marginal changes in the overall sociological and economic dynamics within the country. Our lack of originality in approach in determining fresh contours was not only evident with regard to military culture, but our professional orientation as well. Our professional literature and methods did not reflect on the practical security imperatives, both internally and externally. We have been at war in J&K for the last two decades. We had to intervene in Sri Lanka and Maldives.
We have been victims of the worst kind of terrorism since the last three decades. The change in the orientation of the army to the new forms of threat has been rather reluctant, resulting in suicides and fratricide within the army ranks. Even as these threats grew, there was quantum deterioration in civil-military relations. More than pay and perks, the army personnel were bewildered by the lack of empathy and encouragement by the civil society for their contributions in ensuring the safety and security of the country, a phenomenon that persists. Under these circumstances, army personnel are bound to be afflicted with a sense of cynicism. Why has it happened? The answer lies in the rapidly changing sociology of the country.
To begin with the Indian Army like all the armies of the world, which emerged from colonialism, was the most disciplined, evolved and modern institution, both in socio-economic and technological terms, and with well established traditions. The army was insulated from public glare and therefore, was an unknown commodity. The liberalization of economy has ushered in social and economic forces that threaten to eclipse those very attractions and institutional attributes for which the army was held in awe.
The socio-economic changes in the last two decades have been much more than the changes in the last five or six decades put together. We should not forget that we draw our men from civil society who go back to the same society after retirement. The impact of the rapidly changing social and economic dynamics in the country is discussed in the succeeding paragraphs.
Burgeoning Middle-Class: With every Pay Commission, the gap between the pay and allowances of officers and men has reduced. The Sixth Pay Commission, it cannot be denied, has propelled the Other Ranks into the middle-class category, with all the dreams and vulnerabilities typical to this class. The consumer and material comforts that an officer took some years to acquire two decades back, the other ranks can now easily possess them with savings of just a few months.
Women Emancipation: The biggest revolution unleashed by the liberalization of economy in India has been the emancipation of women and assertion of freedom by them. This is not only confined to the cities but is clearly visible in small towns and to an extent, in the villages. In fact, I met some Pakistanis at Dehradun, who were flabbergasted to see women driving two-wheelers and cars. Gandhi had said that you educate a man, you educate only him, but when you educate a woman, you actually educate the entire family. The emancipation of women in fact is giving rise to a much more confident generation. The increasing economic freedom and opportunities have impacted the Indian Army in two major ways, i.e. the increasing number of working wives and of course the recruitment of women in the army in the officers rank.
The Indian Army is finding it extremely difficult to adjust with both the phenomenon, as evidenced by the number of complaints by officers’ wives against the Army Wives Welfare Association (AWWA) and allegations by lady officers against their male colleagues. The purpose of this article is not to debate over the sagacity of intake of lady officers in the army given the peculiarities of India, but their joining only officers cadre is bound to create a new ‘class’, causing resentment among their male subordinates. The situation can be addressed by intake of women in other ranks as well, but the demands of the profession, particularly the battlefield, are in complete dissonance with the proposition.
Rapid Increase in English Usage: The English language has contributed much to the modernization of the country in terms of scientific and technological achievements, but has also created a big divide between ‘classes’ in our subcontinent. It has also been used as a tool to instill a sense of inferiority complex. In the army, it has created a big divide between officers and men. But undoubtedly now, the English language is seen as an essential vehicle of individual growth and progress. This cannot be denied to the other ranks in the army any longer. It is said that “you change a person’s language, and you change his way of thinking”.
Though all segments of the Indian population are represented, and there is no reservation as such in the armed forces; however this political phenomenon is very much impacting on the army.
Youth Profile of Indian Population: 70 percent of the Indian population is below 35 and 54 percent is below 25. This population has been nurtured in the environment of liberalization in all fields, though it may have impacted in varying degrees in different parts of the country and different segments of the population. Nevertheless, the expectations of this population, particularly the army which comprises mainly of the youth, are becoming more and more urgent and pronounced.
Communication Revolution (Mobile Phones): Mobile telephony has proliferated in the country at an amazing speed. It has not only annihilated distances but more importantly has given a tremendous sense of empowerment to the people of the lower economic strata. For army personnel, who serve in far flung and remote areas, it is a boon and a distraction as well. Earlier, the families of army personnel generally desisted from conveying unpleasant news or incidents while writing letters, which was treated as precious opportunity. Today, the army personnel are in touch with their families 24 x 7. Even minor untoward incidents, which mend in little time, are being conveyed to the army personnel on mobile phones. In many cases, it has resulted in a stress and incidents of suicide and fratricide.
Increasing Affordability of Consumer Items: The increasing affordability of consumer items especially electric and electronics is fast bridging the divide between officers and men with regard to ‘standard of living’. This invariably leads to greater yearning for improvement in ‘standard of life’, which is intangible and psychological in nature.
Automobile Revolution: Just a few decades back, the other ranks found it difficult to afford two-wheelers, but now it is a ubiquitous feature in army units in peace locations. Personnel below officers’ rank will soon graduate to four-wheelers and once they are in command of their own driving wheels, their entire perspective of the world and life will change.
Access to different societies, nationalities and countries is in effect transforming him into a global being. Its biggest impact is on the notions of nation-state. In times to come, it will be difficult to imbue army personnel with fanatical nationalism.
Availability of Loans: The easy availability of personal and housing loans have made dreams possible, which otherwise were considered impossible. It is an asset for all the army personnel, who have fixed and steady incomes. They thus form a very attractive market segment for nationalized and private banks.
Growing Materialism and Consumerism: The growing materialism and consumerism has created a segment of upstarts, who value materialism over character and enduring values. The army as a profession, where sacrifice of many personal comforts and life a such is involved, can ill-afford to be consumed by this phenomenon.
Media Revolution: The media revolution cuts both ways. While it is creating awareness and accountability, it is also creating and destroying personalities and institutions on a daily basis. No institution, no functionary is sacrosanct. When media is unfair and biased towards the army, it hurts and de-motivates the army personnel. With the proliferation and invasion of India, political bias of individual army personnel is something which cannot be wished away, even while the army remains apolitical as an institution.
IT Revolution: The quick access, transmission and retrieval of information is slowly but surely transforming the outlook of army personnel. Access to different societies, nationalities and countries is in effect transforming him into a global being. Its biggest impact is on the notions of nation-state. In times to come, it will be difficult to imbue army personnel with fanatical nationalism. The methods of motivation will have to be more reasoned and informed. Totalitarian states are already experiencing political and social churning on this account, as information and ideas do not respect any physical barriers.
The raising of the economic bar for the creamy layer amongst the OBCs has created a rather piquant situation for officer”“men relationship. We have a situation where a General from the OBC community is entitled to reservation, but a jawans son from the upper caste is not.
The Politics of Reservation: Though all segments of the Indian population are represented, and there is no reservation as such in the armed forces; however this political phenomenon is very much impacting on the army. In the dying hours of the parliament, I watched a debate wherein a Muslim MP demanded that there should be a ‘Muslim Regiment’ on the lines of the ‘Sikh Regiment’. Another MP demanded that there should be a ‘Dalit Regiment’. Probably the Muslim MP was not aware that there are regiments in the army in which there are pure Muslim companies and there are also battalions wherein the overwhelming majority is Muslims. The Dalit MP was also not aware that there are regiments like ‘Mahar’ and ‘Sikh Light Infantry’ composed purely of Dalits. The raising of the economic bar for the creamy layer amongst the OBCs has created a rather piquant situation for officer–men relationship. We have a situation where a General from the OBC community is entitled to reservation, but a jawan’s son from the upper caste is not. This runs against the very ethos of the army, which is a symbol of national integration, and a secular and casteless organization.
Churning of Caste and Class Structure: While there is an increasing clamour by new ‘caste and class’ groups for reservation and there is a bid by politicians to deepen the ‘caste and class’ divide, there is also a definite churning in the ‘caste and class’ structure in India, as evidenced by the waning popularity of caste leaders in the Indian polity, and the increasing number of inter-caste marriages. Sociologically, India is rather experiencing opposite pulls in this regard. The time of non-caste and non-class regiments in the context of the Indian Army may not have come, but is arriving rather fast.
Breakdown of the Joint-Family System: The breakdown of the joint-family system and the emergence of nuclear-families have robbed the army personnel of the inherent physical and economic security, which the joint families provided. With fragmentation of agricultural land, the accent now is more on education, which is available in any decent measure in only towns and cities, thus entailing a shift from agricultural backgrounds, to a life of urban isolation with all its attendant problems. The emancipation of women in India since the liberalization of the Indian economy is also striking at the very roots of the joint family system.
Rapid Urbanization of India: The phenomenal urban growth is not only confined to cities, but small towns as well, which are coming into existence by the day due to improved road communications. The Indian Army is no more an army drawn primarily from the agricultural society. Even in the rural areas, nearly 40 percent of the population is engaged in non-agricultural activities. The social and economic progress of the rural population invariably leads to shift from a rural to urban environment. The intake of the Indian Army therefore will be increasingly from the urban/semi-urban pool.
Deterioration in Law and Order: 40 percent of the Indian territory is affected by ‘naxalism’ and 10 percent by insurgency. These are the areas where the writ of the government is non-existent or minimal. Army personnel hailing from these areas can never feel comfortable about the security of their families, making them apprehensive. They find it difficult to concentrate on their job of providing external security and view the civil administration with contempt for not providing basic internal security.
Lack of Governance and the Growing Tendency to Challenge the Authority: The State’s failure to deliver on governance, the thriving corruption with money being demanded in some cases in the very first phase of an army career, i.e. recruitment, makes army personnel cynical towards established authority. This is rather being witnessed in other areas and organizations as well. The political culture and its byproduct mob culture have also demeaned the executive organs of the state.
The impact of the above has resulted in growing aspirations in the civil society and consequently the armed forces as well. In this regard, two examples are Apposite : at some places there have been demands for membership by personnel below officers’ rank for ‘golf clubs’; and the increasing number of ORs and JCOs buying flats through the AWHO. This change in cultural hierarchy has been engendered by the growing corporate culture, awareness and relatively easy access to means and resources.
The cumulative impact of the changing socio-economic conditions has been that like their countrymen the army personnel are not contend with just ‘pay and perks’, but also want certain privileges – the most important privilege being the avenue for growth. For them quantitative welfare measures are not enough, the emphasis being increasingly on quality. The leadership therefore has to be more imaginative and of much higher order than in the past. It is not that the army is not adapting to the imperatives of the fast changing times, but the process is slow. The army has been, and needs to continue as the bedrock of national integration and progenitor of some very effective and enduring institutional ethos, traditions, and practices.