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Mahar Regiment

Mahars have a long and proud tradition of bearing arms. Military service provided them with the opportunity to move beyond their traditional social position in the village. In fact, the Mahar tradition of being in armies precedes the British Raj. The recorded history of the Mahars' military achievements dates back to Shivaji's army in the 1600s. After Shivaji's death, the Mahar units continued to serve his descendants throughout the 1700s. Mahars began their service with the British in 1750s. Heavily recruited in the pre-mutiny years, the Mahars constituted a fifth to a quarter of the entire Bombay Army. In addition to the size of the Mahar contingent, they were also praised for their conduct as soldiers. The Mahar soldiers were regarded by caste Hindus as ''untouchables'' (now known as dalits)

The Mahars' participation in the Battle of Koregaon on January 1, 1818 is the most famous and also the best documented action involving Mahar soldiers. In addition to army units on land, the Mahars formed a vital component of the Bombay Army's Marine Battalion too. In the wake of the 1857 mutiny and threats from Russia, the British re-examined their recruitment policies and Mahars became a casualty of this new thinking when the British ceased recruiting them in 1893. From 1892 the Mahar soldiers (as well as Mang soldiers, who were also considered to be ''untouchable'') were no longer recruited into the Bombay Army, prohibited from further enlistment, and reclassified as a non-martial race.

When Mahars bade farewell to arms, there were eight Subedar Majors, 62 Subedars, 34 Jemadars and a host of non-commissioned officers and Sepoys of the Mahar community who had served with distinction in the Bombay Army. As expected, they felt the British had betrayed them after over 100 years of loyal service. However, they did not give up easily. Thousands of Mahars were again enlisted in the early years of the first World War and their leaders continued pushing the government to raise a regular battalion of Mahars which ultimately bore fruits in June 1917 when one battalion - 111th Mahar-was raised. It took part in the Great War but was later merged with another regiment.

Again, between two wars, the Mahars persistently sought a regiment for themselves. These efforts resulted in a Mahar Regiment being raised in 1941. The first battalion of the Mahar Regiment was raised at Nanawadi (Belgaum) on October 1, 1941. Subsequently, the Centre, Second and the Third Battalions were also raised. The Training Centre was initially raised as Training Company at Kamptee on October 1, 1942 and later expanded to form the Mahar Training Battalion in June 1943. It was once again renamed as the Mahar Machinegun Regimental Centre from October 1, 1946 when it was converted in a specialist role of fielding medium machineguns, and for a decade and a half rendered most effective support in combat. The medium machinegun detachments were most warmly welcomed in every infantry battalion, for their skills and competent fire support in combat.

In 1956, the Regiment absorbed three battalions of the Border Scouts earlier raised for manning the disturbed Punjab border. The period from 1959 to 1962 saw four more battalions being raised in the regiment as machinegunners. After 17 years of renowned service and pristine glory, Mahar Machinegun Regiment in 1963 was reconverted to a standard Infantry Regiment and was sent back to its original role for which it was raised in 1941. The Regiment as well as the battalions were renamed as the Mahar Regiment except for 4th, 5th and 6th battalions which were designated as battalions of the Mahar Regiment (Borders).

The class composition of the Regiment also changed. While 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th and 13th battalions were all pure Mahar battalions, the others were mixed classes right down to the smallest sub-unit level. The conversion training started in November 1963 with 1st Mahar and completed in May 1964 with 10th Mahar. The year 1965 saw all the battalions of the regiment gearing up for operations. These included the newly raised 11th and 12th battalions that had the unique composition of Bengalis, Oriyas and Gujratis - the communities that had been stamped as non-martial by the British. Their entry into the Mahar fraternity added strength to national integration-the distinctive feature which the regiment has always been proud of. In 1966, the Regiment gained two new battalions in its fold- the 13th and the 108 Infantry Battalion (Territorial Army). The TA battalion which was initially affiliated to Rajputana Rifles was re-organised by interchanging and conversion of personnel between this battalion and the 227th Air Defence Regiment Territorial Army. The Regiment acquired its 14th battalion originally called the 31st battalion in 1968. Belonging to a new series, known as the Thirty Series, raised for counter-insurgency role in Nagaland and Mizo Hills, it was specially trained and equipped for aid to civil power.

This year was also special in the sense that the Regiment was sanctioned special items of dress including a hackle in recognition of its distinguished services rendered with unfailing consistency. The distinctive part of the uniform included a dull cherry hackle, flash backing for soldier titles and badges of rank, white spats and a leather belt with regimental crest on metal buckle. A month prior to the presentation of Colours to the Regimental Centre and 1st to 14th battalions, the Regiment saw the raising of 15th battalion, originally the 32nd battalion in the Thirty Series. It was for the first time that a battalion of the Regiment was composed entirely of hill tribes. And after the Colours, the Regiment saw the new flag in 1975 while the 8th battalion of the Parachute Regiment too was converted and re- designated as the l6th battalion of the Regiment. Later the same year, it was re-converted into Mechanised Infantry Battalion- the first and the only mechanised battalion of the Regiment.

The late 70s and early 80s saw three more additions to the Mahar family - the 17th, 18th and 19th battalions. This period was historic as Gen KV Krishna Rao took over as Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army, 17th and 18th battalions were presented the Colours, a regimental history authored by Col V Longer was released, a special issue dedicated to the Regiment was published by Sainik Samachar and the Postal Department paid tribute to the Regiment by releasing a commemorative First Day Cover, a postal stamp and a special cancellation cachet. The Mahars proved their mettle in the UN missions in Congo and Somalia and in operations Polo, Pawan, Meghdoot and Vijay. The Regimental Centre moved from Kamptee to Arangaon (near Ahmednagar) in 1946 and later found its permanent home in Saugor in December 1948.

On October 1, 1941 the first battalion of 1 Mahar Regiment was raised. The journey of sixty years has been most rewarding for the braves of Mahar Regiment. It offered them opportunities to show their gallantry. Today Mahar Regiment can boast of producing two Army Chiefs - Gen (Retd) K V Krishna Rao and Gen (Retd) K Sunderji. Both of them have been legendary figures occupying places in the hearts of Army personnel and countrymen alike. The diamond jubilee celebrations had Gen S Padmanabhan, Chief of the Army Staff as the chief guest who commended the role played by Mahars in various battles. The diamond jubilee parade, releasing of the First Day Cover, special sainik sammelan, barakhanna and other social functions formed part of the celebrations. Trooping of Colours added glory to the celebration.



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