Nothing British About The Indian Army

Many a time the Indian-ness of the Indian army is questioned. Mostly by people who either envy it, are jealous of it, think they have too much knowledge about it, or just that they couldn’t be part of it. I remember the Onida advertisement, ‘Neighbours envy, owners pride’.

Nothing British About The Indian Army

The jottings below are my sole perception and do not in anyway showcase the official thought process.

Many a time the Indian-ness of the Indian army is questioned. Mostly by people who either envy it, are jealous of it, think they  have too much knowledge about it, or just that they couldn’t be part of it. I remember the Onida advertisement, ‘Neighbours envy, owners pride’.

I have heard remarks like we possess a colonial mindset, the officers cadre behave like they are blue blooded, our traditions and ceremonial parades and uniforms are British. Our regimental names are British and we fly ensigns that resemble the past. The Sahayak system is basically mis-utilisation of manpower. Our regimentation is based on a British model ,etc.

Well let me just dwell a little bit on the facts and figures so as to mitigate the doubts or aspersions being cast.

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The Dress

First things first, let’s not go into what Bollywood depicts Indian soldiers as. Yes we had royalty and Indianness in dressing. But you would realise that there is no documented proof that actually asserts that all Indian regional armies under respective kings had one type of uniform. The royals wore a type, the chieftains another and the common soldier wore what was issued to him or could be managed from his local armoury. There were no distinguishing colours. The Indian tunic and the dhoti mostly in white was the uniform. Colours were added later.

The East India Company started hiring soldiers. They made them akin to the British soldiers to distinguish them from other armies. Within this too a lot of adjustments and modifications were done. Even the initial choice of scarlet and red by the Britishers was scrapped due to being easily identifiable on the battle field and this being a lucrative target. Within the British units they wore different colours. The artillery Lascars of the Bombay army wore Royal Regiment of Artillery colours of Blue with red facings which were a true British Army tradition. The Bengal pioneers also wore green uniforms instead of red. So there was never a single uniform. India wasn’t a united country. There were kings who had their own choice of how the soldiers need to be equipped and dressed.

After the revolt of 1857, the British Indian Army changed to khaki Uniforms, this was due to the comfort and tropical environment. All British Indian soldiers wore Khaki. On independence the army adopted the Olive Green uniform. This was done to differentiate between Indian troops and Pakistani troops. Pakistan Army retained the Khaki uniform. We chose olive green which we wear with pride even today. We graduated to camouflage patterns after lessons learnt in 1971 and getting into the art of jungle warfare. The Indian army also wears different dresses for different battalions. Mostly the beret, the belt, the lanyard, the cap badge and the shoulder titles are different for all.

As for the ceremonial dress it’s always a blue patrol. While I agree that the blue patrol was advocated across the seas, the pattern is a typical Indian Bandhgala. So that’s a consolation. The units thereafter have modified it to suit their traditions and ethos.

We have evolved with our uniform in the Indian army. It’s simple THERE IS NOTHING BRITISH ABOUT IT. Even our rank badges for a field rank is the Ashok sthamb (the four lions with the Ashok chakra and SATYAMEVA JAYATE written in Devnagiri script. What more Indianness do you thereafter desire.

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The Parades

Let’s first talk about parades at regimental or battalion levels. We have the PT parade, the Commanding Officers parade, the maintenance parade, the weapon cleaning parade, the CO Sahab ka darbar, the games parade, we have a rum issue fall in (which is also a parade), we have the morning CHM parade and the evening before lights out parade. In between too we have a lot of other parades like the Mandir, Masjid, Gurdwara, parade.

For ceremonials only, in major class training institutes and regimental centres we have drill parades. Which is part of the training curriculum, making sure a soldier stands upright and has a military bearing. The proudest moment for a soldier is his first blooding in during operations and the passing out from the drill square.

So it fails me to think, what is British about this parade. If you mean the guest of honour driving in on a horse driven carriage… by the way it’s called the Buggy, Baggi… nothing British about it, cause researchers say it’s a word of unknown origin. The maharajas of India before the British used to inspect their armies in chariots and on elephants. So what’s the point of contention here?

Regimental & Battalion Names

Once upon a time we had these fancy names. Especially for armoured and engineer regiments. These are now done away with. The cavalry especially had names generally of British officers that raised it, or financed the pay packets, like the Skinners Horse, the Gardener’s Horse, Hodsons Horse, 8 CAVALRY ,King George’s own etc.

But these names remain only historical today. All Indian armoured regiments are called by a number. 1 HORSE, 2nd LANCERS, 3rd CAVALRY, 4 HORSE etc. The Infantry battalions are totally Indianised, The Kumaon Regiment, The Assam Regiment, The Mahar Regiment etc. the legacy of the Britishers and the raising cannot be just relegated to oblivion. Soldiers are proud of their history. Soldiers don’t fight for themselves, but for a cause, a kingdom, a nation. So these names remain part of regimental history and battle and theatre honours won, are worn with pride on ceremonial uniforms and banners and ensigns displayed prominently in the quarter guard and the regimental messes.

The Buddy System

Every soldier in the army has a buddy. It’s part of the army way of life. A soldier serves in different terrains, inclement weather and most of the time isolated from the world. He is alone, devoid of normal entertainment, bound by long duty hours in the face of the enemy. He while on a post or in a bunker, is dealing with the cold, the enemy before him and his house hold responsibility. His mind is working in dimensions that can, if not given adequate space for venting out, turn into reclusive behaviour or cause psychiatric disorders.

On a post he can’t leave a post for anything at all. Even for urgent ablutions. Therefore he needs to be in a buddy pair. So someone takes over that duty for that minimal time. It’s a partnership. He looks after his buddy and builds up a formidable relationship with him. The responsibility is ensuring mental health, physical fitness, share notes, beat isolation and most of all be a comrade in that trench in the face of the enemy. Only a buddy will in times of war, be the most instrumental to evacuate his comrade to safety ensuring he has a chance at survival.

On a post at night, your mind goes into a state of subconscious trance. You start thinking about life in un-natural ways. Childhood, teens, love life, parents, friends and it’s not the good every time. Lots of blockages you encountered in your growth prop up. That makes you delusional, you are staring into the darkness at midnight, into oblivion and these thoughts have devastating effects. Most of the time at night a tree and a boulder too seem like an enemy soldier on the prowl. It is in these times that the buddy is your psychologist, the omnipresent friend, the adviser and the credible doctor.

Officers buddies have the same duty. The officer is responsible for the training, promotions and well being of his buddy. The officer is part of ensuring smooth running of the regiment. He spends long hours in man management, that includes, training, HR and above all ensuring strict discipline. The buddy is his go to man, the relationship is mutual. Even the officer when the buddy isn’t well, ensures he is looked after, provided for and given the treatment due to him. Yes he helps him do his uniform, but he also shares with him, unit happenings, brings to his notice the good and the bad going around. Helps in giving the perspective of the troops. The bond sometimes becomes so strong that he assists him in ways that some onlookers might think as non military. But this is the same buddy who shares the officers bunker in war, protects him, ensures his ammunition is full, his weapon functioning and that the officer is in full control of his faculties, adequately hydrated and equipped. The first thing an officer asks his buddy before food is served to him is… KHANA KHAYA!

The buddies also look after officers families. They are a part of the family. They take ownership and are protective. They are part of celebrations, birthdays and anniversaries. They are proud to say ‘main Sahab ke saath hoon’. In operations the same buddy is the one who is helping the officer and will be there in case of injury, or death.

Is walking the dog allowed? Or taking children to the park? Please try and understand that army wives are equally involved in daily routine of the army way of life. Family welfare, where they look after the families of troops. Mentoring them, empowering them, teaching them. Spending time with them, hearing their problems etc. All this they do UNPAID. They go to houses of the men, look at MES complaints, visit during births and deaths. The bonding cannot be understood by people who haven’t lived this life. I don’t deny that sometimes there are aberrations. But these get sorted out as soon as they are pointed out. Our families live without their husbands for years. Husbands serving in hard field areas. A little help is always welcome.

Doing away with the buddy system and getting civilian bearers will be the greatest catastrophe to the men in the greens. Because the bond built in peace will see vital contribution through the connect and camaraderie in war.

The naysayers will always have a counter argument. But to live in our shoes for a day, you will understand the bonding. When before he goes on leave my spouse packs a saree for his wife, clothes for his kids, and lunch for his journey… saying bhaiyya khayal rakhna. You won’t understand the emotion involved. Cause you just chose to see the external side of the ills that you think and perceive there are.

The Indian army has nothing British about it. If we have retained something, it’s the regimentation. Because it suited the Indian way of military life. After all you adapt the good, negate the bad and make yourself stronger. Today the soldier doesn’t fight for his country as the greatest motivator… that is secondary. He fights for UNIT IZZAT first. As for the officers, at least I would like to believe that we stand by the credo…

‘The safety, honour and welfare of my country comes first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men I command come next. My own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time’.

Yes the credo is by Field Marshal Philip Walhouse Chetwode, 1st Baron Chetwode, 7th Baronet of Oakley, GCB, OM, GCSI, KCMG, DSO (21 September 1869 – 6 July 1950), a senior British Army officer.




(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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