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A "Regiment" in some armies means a military formation the size of a brigade. In the Indian Army, the word can mean either of two things - battalion-sized units of arms like the Armoured Corps, Artillery, Engineers, and Signals, or a particular combination of Infantry battalions. The Artillery employs the term more comprehensively and calls the complete Artillery mass in the order of battle as the Regiment of Artillery. These regiments are not tactical formations, but rather recruitment and training units.

The word regiment is derived from Latin regimen, a rule or system of order, and describes the regiment's functions of raising, equipping and training of troops. As a regiment acquired individuality, colors, coat of arms, distinctive uniform and insignia, and achievements in battle, it also became a central object of loyalty, pride and esprit de corps of its soldiers.

The regimental system of the Indian Army reflects the British colonial legacy. Most regiments in the British Army were originally single-battalion units. While the battalion was the tactical unit, the regiment was its spiritual counterpart. Aristocratic generals owned and controlled and outfitted their regiments. Occasionally a regiment would have multiple battalions, and in the 18th and early 19th century, such multi-battalion regiments were usually called Corps.

In the Indian Army, the infantry regiments are known by their distinctive individual names, and have a Regimental Centre for training and equipping of the recruits for the infantry battalions of the regiment. The Centre maintains records of each soldier till he retires and is out of service. The Record office and the Pay and Accounts offices perform these functions.

The Centre sends trained soldiers to infantry battalions which are assigned to tactical units -- Brigades and Divisions. The infantry battalions, known by their distinctive regimental number and name, are active units fit to fight and perform desired tasks in the battle. They get the fresh soldiers after initial training from the Centre, perform their assigned tactical roles under the Brigade or other formation under which they are placed. The battalions adopt a common regimental policy for administration and promotion of soldiers, as coordinated and laid down by the Centre.

The Regiments are headed by a Colonel, who is typically a high-ranking officer, such as a Lieutenant General. The Colonel of the Regiment is a key element of the Indian regimental system. With roots going back to the 18th century when colonels owned and equipped their regiments, the Colonel of today is the head of the family and responsible for the protection of the best interests of the regiment. He is almost always an officer of general rank who at one time served in the regiment. The last British soldier left India with the Somerset Light Infantry, but Indian army regiments had British generals as colonel-commandants for years thereafter. The practice of designating a general officer who had served with a battalion of the regiment as colonel-commandant continues. The idea is that an avuncular figure, not directly in command, would take a personal interest in the welfare of the regiment, its troops and its widows.

The battalions of each regiment are assigned to the operational and tactical control of Brigades, though they retain their distinctive regimental designation. Thus, the Sixth Battalion of the Kumaon Regiment would properly be referred to as "6th Kumaon". In practice, while news reports almost always reference regimental affiliations rather than Division or Corps command relations, many news reports confuse the Regimental designations. The report that "Five army personnel including a Captain of the Sixth Kumaon Regiment were killed and six others seriously injured when a remote controlled explosive device blew up the Junga in which they were travelling" suggests that the unit in question was the 6th Kumaon Regiment, when in fact it was the 6th Battalion of the Kumaon Regiment. And the report that "The Kumaon Regiment fired indiscriminately at civilian residence in Pezeliecie, Kenouzuo and Bayabvii residential colonies" suggests that the entire Kumaon Regiment was invovlved in this action, whereas in fact it was elements of a single [un-identified] battalion of the Kumaon Regiment.

Tradition fights. The Indian Army Sepoy (from the Hindustani word sipahi) and now Jawan (young man) or Sawar (rider) and his leaders formed a cohesive collective. They lived to serve the Unit, they were willing to die for it. Nothing must happen which would tarnish its honor, its izzat. The word in Urdu is a distillation hard to explain, encapsulating in itself the code of ethics given by Dharma (faith) and Namak (literally, salt). Unflinching loyalty was to a concept and not to a transient personality or cause. Always and everywhere, the Unit came first. Everything followed from it - the Regiment, the Flag, and the Country. This was the greatest battle-winning factor bequeathed by history to the Indian Army. The men were there, ready and willing to serve a flag, with honour, glory and mutual respect. Quick to appreciate these traits, successive British governments brought in more regional groupings into the Army. A fierce undying loyalty to the Unit was evinced by the British Officer Corps, and the Indian junior leaders and men reciprocated it. The greatest ambition of a British Officer was to command his Regiment.

Regimental System History

By the end of the nineteenth century, recruitment was confined to certain social classes and communities--principally those in the northern border areas and Punjab. The narrowing recruitment base was a response to the Sepoy Rebellion and reflected the needs of prevailing security requirements. The bulk of the rebels in the Bengal Army came from the Indo-Gangetic Plain while those that had remained loyal were mostly from Punjab. The experience of the mutiny also gave rise to a pseudo-ethnological construction, the concept of "martial races" in South Asia. The popularization of this notion was widely attributed to Frederick Sleigh Roberts, Earl of Kandahar, Pretoria, and Waterford; Roberts was an Indian-born veteran of the British forces that put down the Sepoy Rebellion and the commander in chief of the British Indian Army from 1885 to 1893.

Roberts believed that the most martial races were located in northwestern India. He regarded Bengalis, Marathas, and southern ethnic groups as lacking in martial virtues. Their warlike propensities, he contended, had dissipated because of the ease of living and the hot, enervating climate of these regions. Roberts's views profoundly influenced the composition of the British Indian army in the last decades of the nineteenth century. For example, when the Bengal Army was reestablished in 1885, its new units were drawn from Punjab.

In 1892 army policy was changed significantly. Units were no longer raised on a territorial basis but along what was referred to as "class" lines. In effect, regiments admitted only those having similar ethnic, religious, or caste backgrounds. Between 1892 and 1914, recruitment was confined almost entirely to the martial races. These modes of recruitment and organization created a professional force profoundly shaped by caste and regional factors and loyal and responsive to British command. The procedures also perpetuated regional and communal ties and produced an army that was not nationally based.

Low-caste groups sought ''kshatriya-ization'' in the British colonial period, whereby they emulated local martial traditions of higher-caste kshatriya (or warrior) groups and adopted pseudo-rational (orientalist) criteria (such as martial-race ideology) on the basis of their military achievements in order to increase their social status.

Prior to Independence, most of the infantry regiments of the Indian Army were raised on a caste basis. Although the support arms, such as the Army Service Corps (ASC) or the Army Ordnance Corps (AOC), had no specific caste composition, the infantry regiments were strictly caste units. Some infantry regiments recruited from only one caste, such as the Sikh Regiment. Other regiments operated on the class-company basis, in which a battalion level would consist of companies of different castes. Thus, in the Kumaon Regiment, a battalion would have a Kumaoni company, an Ahir Company, a Jat Company, etc. This class company system was initiated by the British primarily to avoid a repetition of the 1857 uprising.

A diversity of formations were amalgamated in 1921 into regiments, and re-designated in the great post-war reorganization of 1922. Before the 1922 reorganisation, each battalion had its own cap badge, there-after ther was only one for a regiment. Prior to World War II most of the eighteen Indian Infantry Regiments consisted of five active and one training (the l0th) battalions. In each Indian Infantry Regiment the 10th was the Training Battalion, which trained the recruits and acted as record office for the three, four or five active battalions of the Regiment. In the years immediately preceeding the Second World War, fifteen Indian cavalry and infantry units were selected for Indianisation. No further junior British officers were posted to these units, though senior British officers remained with them till Indian officers were available to take their places.

When India was partitioned in 1947, the exodus of Muslim troops resulted in the raising of proportion of Sikhs in the army dramatically - to 30 percent. This predominance irked those in the ruling party who inherited the mantle of the Raj. The home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel vowed to cut down the Sikhs' strength in the army in line with their population. Patel is also believed to have decreed that no Sikh shall be appointed chief of the army staff. There is no denying the fact that, despite five decades of republican democracy, India has had several outstanding Sikh generals but never a be-turbaned chief of army staff.

In 1949 the government abolished recruitment on an ethnic, linguistic, caste, or religious basis. Exceptions were army infantry regiments raised before World War II, where cohesion and effectiveness were thought to be rooted in long-term attachment to traditions. Some army regiments have a homogeneous composition; other regiments segregate groups only at battalion or company levels. Others are completely mixed throughout.

In general, the army has steadily evolved into a more heterogeneous service since 1947. Regiments raised during and after World War II have recruited Indians of almost all categories, and the doubling of the army's size after the 1962 border war with China sped up the process. The armed forces have made a concerted effort to recruit among underrepresented segments of the population and, during the late 1970s and the early 1980s, reformed the recruiting process to eliminate some of the subjectivity in the candidate selection process. After a little unrest in the armed forces due to Operation Blue Star it was proposed that all the infantry units be intermixed [no Rajput regiment, Sikh regiment, etc]. But in the end the proposal was dropped. Since 1989 the government has sought to apportion recruitment from each state and union territory according to its share of the population. The Indian Army has still not discarded the colonial tradition of recruitment based on alloting vacancies categorywise. Recruitment in army is based on intake from all categories so that equal opportunities are provided to one and all. Vacancies are filled biannually and categories to be filled are advertised accordingly.

To many caste and ethnic groups, military service has been an avenue of social mobility. Enlisted men from disadvantaged groups hope to secure economic benefits, educational opportunities, leadership experience and enhanced social status in a caste-ridden society. For years the Indian government found itself attacked from opposite directions with regard to the caste and regional groups' composition of the army. Almost every debate in Lok Sabha over defense ministry budget presentations produces demands for and against the creation of new, homogeneous regiments.

Secularism has been traditionally followed in the Indian Army. In mixed regiments, like the Guards, the Grenadiers, the Rajputana Rifles, the Punjab Regiment and the J&K Rifles, a prayer room is set aside for followers of all the faiths and equal time is allotted. Secularism does not exclude religion, but gives equal opportunity to all for saying their prayers.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:37:40 ZULU