Diversity of the Unifiers – A study of contrasts in the indian Army

Change is not always for good. Nothing can exemplify this more than the recent decision of the defence ministry to change uniforms of Indian military personnel.

The modi government is stipulating a rather staid looking unification of Indian army uniforms seemingly to make them look more Indian!

As the first step, informed sources say, uniforms of all officers from & above the rank of Brigadier will be made to look alike including all insignia like belts, buckles, badges, collars, cap etc. More importantly these new uniforms will be devoid of all regimental colours & identification.

The reason being given for the move is said to be to ensure that all soldiers look like officers of the Indian army rather than military personnel belonging to various regiments. Although the changes are yet to be implemented, a great debate is already shaping up across the cantonments questioning the utility or rather, the futility of these exercise.

Presently an Indian army officer has to maintain at least 8 uniforms namely the summer regular, winter regular, summer ceremonial, winter ceremonial, 3 mess dresses & a combat dress. Army has since long been asking for a reduction in this British devised custom. Officers are of the view that 8 uniforms should be reduced to maximum 3 – office dress, ceremonial dress & a combat dress with the ceremonial dress doubling up for the mess duty too.

The fabrics presently being used for these dresses also leave much to be desired. Most uniforms are made of terrycott which is damn uncomfortable in Indian summers. The combat dress has the shirt required to be tucked in below the belt which makes it probably the most uncomfortable combat dress in the world. Further there is no Indianness in any of the uniforms down to the Regimental dresses. Even the neighbouring Pakistan does a better job with their national dress Salwar Kurta being used in the Army ceremonial dress.

Aside from the fabrics, all the accessories like belts, shoes, buckles, socks, badges, stars, rank & regimental insignia etc. differ according to the respective regiments. Top echelons of the army say this is leading to compartmentalization of world’s fourth biggest army with Soldier & officers alike giving more importance & precedence to their own regiments over the wider canvas of the Indian army. While every officer wants to promote his own regiments, for the soldiers, the izzat of the Paltan is worth more than dying for. It is this preferance for the Paltan that some of the top brass wants to end in exchange of an all encompassing unified feel for the “Indian Army”.

But this is misconceived. A mere change in uniforms of top commanders will not charge anything. The whole structure of the Indian Infantry revolves around differences & individualistic identities. These identities are sectarian (as in Dogras, Rajputs, Mahar), linguistic (Assam, Bihar, Maratha) & geographical (Garhwal, Kumaun, Gurkha, Sappers etc.). Every regiment or Paltan has its own recruitment rules from its own ethicity or catchment area, its own HQ, operation & training system, its own flag, colours, emblems, badges, uniforms etc. Even the war cries, regimental mottos & languages used differ. Last but not the least each regiment worships its own God of war or the war diety.

History has shown that it is this distinction & individual ethnicity which has provided the competitive spirit in the Indian armed forces to rise above the call of duty. The philosophy of the Paltan’s izzat being supreme above all else (many a times even above the feeling of nationhood) has ensured that the Indian infantryman has two reasons to die for – fight for the motherland & die for the Paltan.

The reason is not far to seek. India has historically been a collection of diverse ethnicities, regions, states, sects, kingdoms & the like which have for thousands of years been the basis of individual nations whereas the concept of the Indian state is hardly 70 years old. Thus it is no doubt that these characteristics play a very important part in the overall identification of oneself. The concepts & origins of all Indian regiments themselves are much much older than the Indian state. There have been umpteen instances where regiments have competed amongst each other to prove the supremacy of one’s race,  region, caste or creed over those of others of the same organisation.

While it could be argued that, it is these differences that the Commanders seek to do away with, the more pertinent question to ask is “to what avail & extent?” Can you change the entire character, identity & history of a regiments just by changing uniforms of a few top officials? What & how much does the uniform matter when each & everything; every parameter on which your regiments are founded are different?

In conclusion, the defence ministry, I feel is going overboard trying to generalise what are very clear, glorious diversities. Differing nuances should not be viewed as differences but rather as diversities in as much as the  concept of Indian nationhood itself amply defines as a nation resonating with sublime unity in diversity.

Ideas born out of brain storming have their utility in being instruments of intellectual discourse but before executing the same, ground realities need to be checked lest they result in tyranny of the unthought. Thus the present attemots of the army brass to irrationalise the very rationale on which the Indian army is based will only lead to heartburns of dejection & must be stalled at all cost.

Post Author: maxyogi

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