Indian Army marching at Rajpath
Indian Army | Representational image | Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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It’s not just Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election campaign speeches that feature the Army. The Samajwadi Party, in its manifesto for the Lok Sabha Elections 2019, has promised to form an Ahir Infantry Regiment if elected to power. Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad has demanded that the Chamar regiment, formed during the World War 2, to be reinstated.

The issue has come up outside the political arena too. Demands for such regiments are long-pending and questions related to these have been raised on many forums, including in Parliament and within the ministry of defence. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes, in its letter to then defence minister Manohar Parrikar, had raised the demand to reinstate the Chamar regiment.

The question that then arises is: do these demands have some rationale or should we summarily reject them as casteist and divisionary?

Also read: Battle of Saragarhi has become a symbol of valour, but Battle of Koregaon has no takers

The concept of single caste or pure regiments came into being during the British era, which was based on their own categorisation – the warrior class. However, India continued with these regiments based on class and regions because of regimental history and ethos.

It is pure misnomer that Indian Army is based on caste. It is important to note that only personnel from other ranks are recruited on a laid down structure but officers are not.

There are both “mixed” and “fixed” class units like the Grenadiers or the Mahar Regiment. The 4 Grenadiers has two companies of Jats, one company of Muslims and one company of Dogras.

Similarly, Rajputana Rifles has an equal mix between Rajputs and Jats, while the Rajput Regiment mainly has Rajputs and Gujars with Muslims and Bengalis.

The other fighting arms like the Armoured Corps and Artillery also have several examples of “pure” units among them.

However, “support” arms like EME, Ordnance, ASC, Signals are “all-class” units.

The Indian Army has several regiments and units named after caste, community and region — like Jat, Sikh, Rajput, Dogra, Mahar, JAK Rifles, Gorkha, Sikh Light Infantry and so on. It must be remembered though that caste- or region-based regiments are not for the entire army but portions of the fighting arms and some specialised units. President’s Bodyguard, a unit of Army, are still selected from only three castes — Hindu Jaat, Jat Sikh and Rajput. The Army has defended this practice in the Supreme Court citing functional requirements. So why can’t we have regiments like Ahir and Chamar and many more such units based on castes and communities?

In the case of Ahir, the claim is based on the assumption that Ahirs or Yadavs are already present in the Army in good numbers and they have fought some of the most glorious battles for the Army.

They cite the battle of Rezang La as an example of exemplary bravery. This battle took place in the Ladakh sector during the India-China war of 1962 and is considered “the only bright spot for India” in that war. The Ahir company of Kumaon regiment was asked to defend a creek overlooking Chosul airfield. On 18 November 1962, this company of 120 Ahir jawans, recruited from the Rewari region of Haryana, and an officer, Major Shaitan Singh, was attacked by a huge contingent of Chinese army consisting of around 5,000 infantry and heavy artillery. In the battle, 114 Ahir jawans laid their life, five were captured by the Chinese army and one was sent back to tell the story to the world. The battle of Rezang La inspired the Bollywood film Haqeeqat (1964) and also inspired the nationalistic song, Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon, written by poet Kavi Pradeep.

Also read: Indian Army to defend 3-caste President’s Bodyguard recruitment policy in court

In the recent Pulwama attack, in which at least 40 soldiers were killed, there were several from the Ahir community. The caste analysis of the Pulwama martyrs, carried out by a magazine, had raised many eyebrows, because the study revealed how Hindu upper castes, that are usually at the forefront of the masculine, nationalistic fervour, are hardly ever found among the martyrs.

In southern Haryana, also known as Ahirwal (because of the high concentration of Ahirs), and also in eastern Rajasthan and western UP, large number of young men spend hours exercising in the fields and local akharas to prepare for recruitment in Army camps.

The community of Chamars have a stronger claim for a regiment because they already used to have a regiment. Satnam Singh, a JNU scholar and author of ‘Chamar Regiment Aur Uske Bahadur Sainikon Ke Vidroh Ki Kahani Unki Jubani’, says that there is no reason, moral or logistical, to not reinstate the Chamar regiment. His book documents how the regiment was raised in the Meerut Cantt on 1 March 1943 and why it was disbanded by the British government in 1946.

Before its formation, the Chamar regiment functioned as the 27th battalion within 2nd Punjab Regiment. Citing literature from the British Indian Army, Singh says that this regiment was raised under a new policy to recruit infantrymen from the communities that were traditionally not recruited. This regiment was sent to the eastern front during World War 2 and earned many accolades. The first battalion of Chamar regiment fought in the battles of Rangoon, Imphal and Kohima with 42 jawans laying their lives. Seven soldiers of the battalion were awarded battle honours while the battalion as a whole was awarded the Battle Honour of Kohima.

Also read: Indian Army’s Mahar regiment: Home to two army chiefs and a Param Vir Chakra

Three regiments of the Dalits — Mahars, Chamars and Majahbi Ramdasia — took part in WW2. Mahar regiment continued to be the part of the Army and Majahbi and Ramdasia regiments were renamed as Sikh Light Infantry.

But the Chamar regiment was disbanded with one of the arguments being that the jawans of this regiment had deserted the British army to join the Indian National Army of Subhash Chandra Bose. Later, some jawans revolted against the decision to disband the regiment, even as 46 of them were arrested for taking part in the rebellion. The demand for the reinstatement of the Chamar regiment never died, documented in Satnam Singh’s book.

The rationale for Ahir and Chamar regiments stems from the fact that after the Independence, the Union government decided to continue with the caste- and community-based Army formations. No such regiment was disbanded even though no new regiment was formed. The argument for continuing with the caste-based regiments is that they enhance cohesion. It’s debatable whether this is a valid argument in a modern world and in a secular democratic country. But until this remains the government’s policy, the demand for new caste-based regiment will also exist.

In a way, it is sadly the government that is proving to be the source giving rise to such demands.

The author is a senior journalist.

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11 Comments Share Your Views


  1. The content of the articles is anachronistic with the trends in the modern army. The battles are going to be less human intensive as the years go by. With the advent of technology, the fire power and deterrence are to be determined by technological capabilities. Surveillance through satellites, assault through offset weapons are going to be order of the day. Even in sub-conventional sphere, the cost of losing a personnel is high enough to look for technological alternatives at tactical levels. There are already reams of recommendations to reduce the manpower in IA and plans are afoot to reduce it by 1.5 lakhs. China is working to reduce its standing manpower even as it is asserting itself in various regions.
    In such times, talking of Ahirs and Chamars and Rajputs and Sikhs and high castes and low castes is so past-century like. Focus should be on generating engineers that develop solutions and an educated smart army that uses it effectively.

  2. While we may or may not include these caste regiments I am of the strong opinion that a Gujjar Regt with muslim Gujjars from J&K . They are brave sturdy tall and honest people and can stand sentinels of our Jammu region borders with Pakistan. Infact that regiment can even have one or two pure battalions of female Gujjar tribe.
    They have been loyal to IA in 1965 and 1971 wars and helped the Army by paying a heavy price
    Defence ministry should think about it.

  3. You are a sick print , why the hell are we even discussing issue like cast and religion regiments in our Army, This is not the right way of using your right to expression or speach. Can’t you think twice before printing any article or just printing for the sake of publicity.

  4. As usual, The Print will not desist from writing any thing but derogatory to Armed Forces. And Mr Mondal your claim being senior journo is doubtful when you refer to cast analysis of martyred 40 CRPF personnel by some magazine, it could only be Print who can do such analysis to further cast aspersion on uniformed persons. And you on your part being so self proclaimed senior journo, not done well when you attribute malaciously in this article above, ” In the recent Pulwama attack, in which at least 40 soldiers were killed, there were several from the Ahir community. The caste analysis of the Pulwama martyrs, carried out by a magazine, had raised many eyebrows, because the study revealed how Hindu upper castes, that are usually at the forefront of the masculine, nationalistic fervour, are hardly ever found among the martyred” This really written with hatered against possibly BJP and Modiji because Print can not think beyond this. Your leftist thinking is not going to divide armed forces. Do try very hard it is going to boomerang .

  5. And why not kahar and kachhi and sunar and so many more regiments. Each and everyone can fight. If not with enemy than with each other. The politicians drop a bomb to further their own interest and there is no dearth of journalists to publish their research work. In an already divided society based on religion and caste some people are working hard to make further inroads. The politics have entered all other areas, military seems to be the target now.

  6. Why are we even discussing caste segregation. Some how ‘Mazhab Nahi Sikata Aapas Mein Bair Rakhna’ doesn’t seem to sink in. We are Hindus short form for Hindustani! By that logic all those who are born in INDIA are Hindus, irrespective of caste, creed, culture or any fancier upbringing.

  7. Surprised to see Mr Mandal giving gyan based on caste politics in Indian Army, we the soldiers r already fed up of politicians and there politics and now u have jumped the train. Guys be sensible to wat u write and think twice before u publish. U r not even fit for being a journo forget to write about Army. Take rest and treatment brother .

  8. The Constitution makers, while espousing equality for all in Preamble, themselves propagated continuance of caste system by reservation for SC/STs. Subsequent politicians for their own selfish reasons have only increased it from 22.5℅ to 60℅ and from 15 years to now permanently.
    Many people may not be aware that Revenue Deptt maintains caste record in revenue documents and their certificate is essential to claim any reservation benefit.

    But if u call a chamar by his caste, police puts u behind the bars on his complaint.
    Now the same chamar is willing to form & join a Chamar Regiment. Isn’t it propagation of caste system further ? In WW-II, Brishers raised Chamar Regiment in 1943 as last resort as they faced acute shortage of recruitable males among martial castes beyond a point due to ongoing Independence Struggle and fighting on multiple fronts.

    Incidentally, enrolment in armed forces is already done on regional or all class basis. In Infantry also, many battalions are pure only for the namesake, often having companies of different communities.

    Let us not divide this beautiful country further on the basis of caste, creed or religion.
    Enemy bullet does not differentiate between a. Brahmin and and Shudra.

    Let armed forces better handle their issues themselves. They belong to entire nation.

  9. A “senior journalist” is “fighting” to tinker with the structure of the Army, with full authority but no responsibility for the result of his action. While certain old regiments have a class basis, this senior journalist is unaware that the overall composition is based on the distrbution of classes in the national population.

  10. In units, field kitchens are company wise. Hence while battalions may be mixed, companies are generally not. Further by having units based on ethnicity, continuous contacts can be maintained with families as companies, platoons are composed of soldiers from same and nearby villages.

    It also helps when the army is called out to quell riots. Depending on where the riot is, appropriate regiments are sent so that the soldiers have no affinity with local population.

  11. Indian Army Infantry Regiments were based caste & community to strengthen Regimental Esprit de Corps.

    While there are numerous castes, not even once is it used in communication and execution of orders either in Peace time or War.
    But yes, in all times each soldier of any Regiment takes pride in his Regimental ethos and traditions.
    To uphold the Regimental Valour, the spirit of Regiment is invoked and not caste and subcaste.

    The author would have done well to ignore such calls of caste based politics being raised by few prejudiced political sections vis a vis Armed Forces.

    Lastly, there is a need to handle these topics with care rather than headline as Brave Ahirs & Honourable Chamars….

    To sum up, we in Indian Army and Armed Forces have no caste & no community. We wear only Tricolour in once we don our pride our Uniform & in so is our hearts and blood….our country & Nation is First and everything else is secondary…
    Jai Hind!


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