History of caste-based regiments in the Indian Army: Here's all you need to know

History of the caste-based regiments in the Indian Army: The recruitment in the Indian Army was based on the caste and region and dates back to the British colonial era.
Jun 15, 2020 16:40 IST
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 Caste-based regiment in the Indian Army
 Caste-based regiment in the Indian Army

In 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, the Samajwadi Party in its election manifesto promised to form a caste-based Ahir Infantry Regiment, if they came in power. Also, Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad demanded the reinstation of the Chamar regiment which was formed during World War II. 

The caste-based regiment was not only political agenda but the National Commission for Scheduled Castes also supported the move. The commission wrote a letter to the then Minister of Defence, Manohar Parrikar for the reinstatement of the Chamar regiment. 

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History of Caste-based regiment

After 1857 Sepoy mutiny, the caste and region-based recruitment were done by the British Government in the Indian Army to divide it into martial and non-martial races. The Jonathan Peel Commission was tasked to identify social groups and regions to recruit loyal soldiers. Since the revolt was from Eastern and Southern parts of India, the British government didn't recruit them in the Army and changed the centre of recruitment to Northern India. However, independent India continued the caste and region-based regiments due to their history and ethos.

In 1903, a caste-based regiment was created in the form of 1st and 3rd (Gaur) Brahman Infantry which was disbanded after World War I. The second caste-based regiment, 'Chamar regiment' was formed during the World War II and was disbanded in December 1946. In 1941, the 1st Lingayat battalion was created which initially served as an infantry unit and then as an anti-tank regiment. The battalion was disbanded in the late 1940s.

Martial Class: The British Government categorized brave and well-built people under this category for fighting. North Indians were given preference by the British. 

Non-martial Class: This class was believed to be unfit for battle by the British Government. Bengalis were categorized by the British as non-martial races due to the 1857 revolt. Also, the Bengali's spearheaded the nationalist movements in India in the early years.  

It can be said that the recruitment based on races and caste was done to divide the colonial Indian society and to stop the revolts in the future. 

Caste-based regiments in India

1. Punjab Regiment

2. Madras Regiment

3. Maratha Light Infantry

4. Rajputana Rifles

5. Rajput Regiment

6. Jat Regiment

7. Sikh Regiment

8. Sikh Light Infantry

9. Dogra Regiment

10. Garhwal Rifles

11. Kumaon Regiment

12. Assam Regiment

13. Bihar Regiment

14. Jammu & Kashmir Rifles

15. Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry

16. Naga Regiment

17. 1 Gorkha Rifles

18. 3 Gorkha Rifles

19. 4 Gorkha Rifles

20. 5 Gorkha Rifles

21. 8 Gorkha Rifles

22. 9 Gorkha Rifles

23. 11 Gorkha Rifles

24. Ladakh Scouts

25. Arunachal Scouts

26. Sikkim Scouts

President's Bodyguard 

The bodyguard of the Indian President is a small unit having nearly 150 troops which are still selected from three castes-- Hindu Jaat, Jat Sikh and Rajput. The President's Bodyguard unit was formed in the year 1773 by the then Governor Warren Hastings under different titles-- The Governor General's Bodyguard (GGBG)' in 1784, 'The Viceroy's Bodyguard' in 1858, the '44th Divisional Reconnaissance Squadron GGBG' in 1944.

The Indian Army has cited in the Supreme Court that the recruitment from these three castes is done purely on the basis of functional requirement and is not based on caste and religion. It further stated that the ceremonial duties in the Rashtrapati Bhawan demand common height, built and appearance. 

The President's Bodyguard must have a minimum height of six feet. These are-- expert horsemen, fluent with ceremonial punctilio, trained combat paratroopers, armoured vehicle crewmen and tradesmen. The position of the President's Bodyguard is the senior-most unit of the army. 

Are all regiments in the Indian Army based on caste?

No, all the regiments in the Indian Army are not based on caste. For instance, Rajputana Rifles have an equal number of Rajputs and Jats. Similarly, Rajput regiment has Rajputs, Gurjars and Muslims. In addition to this, the support and technical arms are not caste-based. 

The caste-based system ushers the sense of the caste hierarchy before the national unity of the nation. It is an age-old belief that measures courage either by cast or community and is not practised in Independent India. 

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