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The Army: Missing Muslim India

Saturday June 30, 2012 03:58:17 PM, Ali Ahmad

This article begins with a set of statistics and thereafter proceeds to discuss these. The Platinum Jubilee issue of the magazine of the Indian Military Academy, published in 2007, has some revealing tidbits of information. From the lists of various officer alumni who have done the Academy proud, it is obvious that Muslims are few and far between. 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, late Captain Haneefuddin of Kargil fame, has been awarded a higher gallantry medal, a Vir Chakra, ever since then. Only one Muslim Gentleman Cadet has won the Academy’s Sword of Honour post-independence, with the award being won way back in 1973.

These achievements appear somewhat meagre in the light of the Indian Muslims forming the country’s largest minority numbering over 175 million. It naturally raises the question: Why?

An answer can be seen in a further set of statistics gleaned from the biannual magazines of the Indian Military Academy, published at the end of the Spring and the Autumn terms respectively. In the magazines a one-line pen-portrait is given of each Gentleman Cadet (GC) passing out, below the course photo of each company (equivalent of a House in schools). From the two 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 out of the 555 taking commission that term. The following Spring Term, 11 Muslim GCs passed out of 611. In the Autumn Term 2011, the latest one for which the magazine is available, 14 Muslims passed out. However, this last figure includes those from friendly foreign countries such as Afghanistan, the numbers for which have gone up since the strategic agreement with that country.

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 the IMA, that commissions more than 1200 officers a year. This compares somewhat poorly with the civil services yearly list on which 30 Muslims figured this year amongst about 900 who ‘made it’. Admittedly, there are other routes for officer commission these days into the Army, such as through the Officers Training Academy and through the Technical Officer 12th class entry stream. This means that the numbers making it into the Army are marginally higher and must be viewed against the total getting commissioned in a year, which a back-of-the-envelope calculation puts at 1800 plus a year.

Clearly, the overall number can only be as abysmal as the statistics accessed here reveal. While reckonings elsewhere place the percentage of Muslims at three per cent of the overall total of Muslims in the Army, the statistics in regard to officer numbers have been uninformed guesses at best. It is perhaps for the first time here that a figure of about 1.1 per cent of officer commissions being of Indian Muslims has been arrived at. The numbers of Muslim women officers can easily be imagined, with the OTA magazine being the right place to look for exact numbers in the absence of the government owing up to a problem.

The absence of information suggests that the statistics that are no doubt known to the government are somewhat embarrassing to reveal from the point of view of India’s and its Army’s secular credentials. It is no wonder then that a former Chief, General J.J. Singh, had put his foot down in revealing the details of Muslim representation in the Army when approached by the Sachar Committee for its report. The laconic answer given then was that the Army, being a secular institution, does not maintain such records. This explanation begged the question of how the mortal remains of dead soldiers were to be disposed-off in a war if the community to which a dead soldier belonged was not known?!

The intake being so limited into the commissioned ranks, it is no wonder then that the martial achievements of Muslim officers can be covered in less than a paragraph as in the first paragraph here. The Autumn Term 2011 issue can be mined for more telling statistics. For instance, not a single Muslim name occurs in the list of names below the group photos of the Academy faculty, the administrative staff, the training team and, worse, even the academic department. This is the same case in the Spring Term 2008. Among the non-officer instructor staff in the drill, physical training, weapons training and equitation sections, there are nine Muslim instructors. Incidentally, even at this non-officer level there are no Muslims in the consequential Training section. The relative absence of Muslims is of a piece with the fact given in the Platinum Number that the IMA has had only one Muslim Commandant and one Muslim Subedar Major post-independence. (For the record the National Defence Academy, a feeder institution to the IMA, has had two Muslim Commandants.)

WHILE the numbers are few, the performance of Muslims at the Academy is also revealing. All six magazines carry photos and write-ups of the 34 top GC appointments, no doubt as incentive. Of the 136 appointments scanned only one was Muslim. Beginning with this leadership deficit, it is easy to reckon as to why there were no officer instructors in the two terms examined, 2008 and 2011. Not tenanting such prestigious appointments early on, the problem persists with very few making it to the higher ranks. This is accentuated by the steep pyramidal structure that the Army has. In other words, there is a cascading effect of the deficit of Muslim youth making it to the Indian Military Academy and beyond. The Army’s stock answer to this can be anticipated. The Army merely selects from those self-selecting to it as a profession. The onus is on India’s various communities to offer up their best youth for the noble profession of arms. This could easily have been accepted but for two facts. One is that General V.K. Singh’s exertions over the past year suggest that ‘community’ is a consequential factor, at least in the higher ranks. The second is that, given this under-representation, it is clear that this is compensated by over-representation of some other communities. What are the effects of such under/over-representation?

In case the answer to this question is found to be negative and consequential, then there is a case for correction. This is a controversial point to make since it is suggestive of affirmative action. This is not how this article recommends corrective action. But, first, it is necessary to ascertain whether a diverse country such as India is better off with its Army reflecting its diversity. The reflexive answer of a traditionalist would be, ‘Why fix what ain’t broke?’ In other words, if the Army is working as an apolitical and secular organisation, there is no need to tinker with it. The answer offered here is an impressionistic one to the contrary. It is that the internal health of the Army does not give ground for complacence. The Army officer corps is from the lower middle class and confined geographically to North India and more narrowly to a certain set of communities traditionally advantaged by the recruitment patterns over at least a century-and-a-half. The officer corps will therefore reflect the opinions and attitudes of the social class to which it belongs. It is no secret that there has been a churning in Indian society over the past two decades, brought about by liberalisation and the ascendance of cultural nationalism. This influence has been in the face of the Army’s involvement in counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism in J&K. While, as is the wont of armies universally, the Indian Army can be expected to exhibit a conservative-realist bias, this is accentuated by the social origin of the officer class. The discourse in this social space has the Muslim ‘Other’ taking on greater dimensions, the proportions of which have been enhanced by the global security discourse centred on Muslim extremism. A terror-based ‘inside-outside’ linkage between the Muslim Indian and Pakistani intelligence, sought to be established by the media and some political formations, has greater play than otherwise would be the case. A content analysis of in-service publications can prove this to an extent. (That is not gone in here for want of space.) The absence of Muslims from an officer’s social space as colleagues and peers does little to dispel misinterpretations. The problem that occurs is in the perception of the social class in which the officer corps is anchored being elevated to the institutional threat perception and at one remove that of the state.

The disadvantage for under-represented communities is that they are unable to take advantage of the expansion in the security sector, incidentally the only sector growing in neoliberal climes. The Sixth Pay Commission bonanza thus gets channelled narrowly to those advantaged, reinforcing the inequity. Given that Muslims have been shown up as under-represented here and knowing that most are from the equivalent of backward classes, it can be surmised that the problem afflicts the backward classes in general as well as SC/STs, given that the military does not have reservations (and rightly so). This means that the only government sector that is expanding caters for a certain section of society. (The Army has expanded by two divisions over the past three years and is set to add 86,000 men as part of a mountain strike corps over the next five year plan.) Continuing with the present intake pattern can deepen divides.

It is therefore with a view to correcting this perceptual and attitudinal bias that it is recommended here that the telling statistic of a mere one-to-two per cent of officers being Muslim be taken seriously by both the state and Muslim community. As a first step, the pattern of intake must be ascertained in-house to find out if what is surmised here carries water. Its implications, as discussed, can also be thought through. The Army, if the reasoning given in the previous paragraph is persuasive, must for its own reasons carry out a campaign to make itself attractive to a whole host of communities that are under-represented. These include those from the North-East and South India, leave alone Muslims. Civil-military liaison conferences in these States must be geared to energising the State administration to take corrective measures. This could include establishing Sainik Schools, increasing the representativeness of Sainik and Military school intake etc.

Additionally, communities, such as India’s various Muslim communities across the country, can rig up swotting classes to help its youth qualify and clear the induction hurdles. This is how States over-represented in the officer cadre prepare the youth. The Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia and the Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim Universities, coincidentally being military men, can guide the community’s reaction. Affirmative action is not being suggested here, only targeted advertisement campaigns being followed up suitably by state and civil society action.

Ali Ahmad, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor, Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

The above article appeared in the June 23-27, 2012 issue of

New Delhi based MAINSTREAM weekly.



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