Eradicating British colonial legacy – Indian is Army Reviewing Customs And Policies

The Army said that it is vital to abandon obsolete and ineffective practices from the colonial era. The names of the battalions and regiments are being reconsidered. Names, unit insignia, colonial officer's mess procedures, traditions, and customs will also be examined.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The Indian Army is in the process of evaluating its rituals, practices, rules, and policies to eradicate the British colonial legacy. Additionally, the names of the battalions and regiments are being reconsidered.

Customs and traditions from the colonial and pre-colonial eras, army uniforms, regulations, laws, rules, policies, unit establishment, institutes of colonial past, English names of some units, renaming of buildings, establishments, roads, and parks, and institutions such as Auchinleck or Kitchener House are among the legacy practices that require a review, according to an Army statement.

In addition, the Army will examine traditions such as the granting of honorary commissions and rituals such as Beat the retreat and the regimental structure. The Army said that it is vital to abandon obsolete and ineffective practices. The names, unit insignia, and the colonial officer’s mess procedures, traditions, and customs will also be examined.

According to the Indian Army, it is also necessary to assess these historical practices to align them with the national spirit and the five oaths the prime minister has urged everyone to take.

“I am from the old school of thought. I feel happy I retired well in time. For me, Regimental customs & traditions are force multipliers & enhance combat effectiveness. While all progress means change, all changes don’t mean progress. Armed forces should get ready to see the change from Salute to Namaste,” said Colonel NN Bhatia (Retd.), a military veteran.

“Army ranks to be replaced by Hindi ranks,” he said, adding that “When English words of command were changed with Hindi, everyone felt heavens would fall, but now we are so used to them that won’t desire to set the clock back.

“Changes should enhance Regimental spirit, combat effectiveness & doing away with redundancy & not a political agenda. I hope an independent committee of the experts & a mix of civil & military historians, motivators, and senior officers from the three services & administrators would be set up without politicians & feedback from the Regimental Centres; CORs/ Sr Colonel Comdts would be obtained, evaluated & implemented,” he said.

“Election-centric thinking & reforms are NO GOOD for the armed forces & national security,” he said.

Some of the changes that Col Bhatia suggested included the issue of equating the Army with the police. He said that “police should be prohibited from wearing military badges of rank. He said the police should wear khaki & NOT OG/ disruptive pattern camouflage uniforms. Policemen are constables & NOT addressed as jawans who are only in the Army. DG NSG is a 3-star Army general & NOT a police officer & directly functions under the MoD/ the CDS.”

“The Assam Rifles is the only PMF (paramilitary force) officered by Army officers and should be under administrative & operational control of the Army. Rest all CRPF, BSF, ITBP, SSB etc., are CPOs (Central Police Organization) under the MHA,” he added.

“Naam, Namak, and Nishan define the ethos of every soldier of the Indian Army. These signify the paltan to which he belongs and owes his allegiance, the camaraderie, trust and faith he has in his paltan and finally, his flag, which he is ready to sacrifice his life for. A trained soldier imbibes these qualities due to the training he receives at each stage of his career and the customs and traditions of his paltan. Each paltan has its own. These have been handed down for generations. Some paltans have a history dating back to several centuries. These are followed rigidly and form the backbone of our Army. 

“Our religious customs are followed completely regardless of the religion of the officers. It’s not uncommon for a Christian CO to command a Sikh paltan or a Muslim CO of a Hindu paltan. Sarv Dharan Sthal, where all pray together at a Mandir Parade, is our tradition,” says Maj Gen Jose Manavalan, AVSM, (Retd.).

A part of the change is the Modi government’s directive to move major events away from the national capital region (NCR), the annual Army Day parade on January 15 will also be relocated out of Delhi. This follows the announcement that, instead of the usual Hindon airbase on Delhi’s outskirts, the annual Air Force Day flyover and parade will be held in Chandigarh this year. 

General (later Field Marshal) K M Carriappa took command of the force from General Sir F R R Bucher, the last British Commander-in-chief, on January 15, 1949, and Army Day is celebrated each year to commemorate that moment. 

Next year’s Army Day parade will take place within the area of responsibility of the Southern Command, whose headquarters is in Pune. The exact location of the parade in 2023 has not been decided yet.

In addition to Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, Secunderabad, and Hyderabad, the Army’s Southern Command also includes Pune, Jhansi, Bhopal, and Ahmedabad. It is likely that in 2024, the parade will be moved to another location.

Speaking of the changes made to the Army Day parade, Col NN Bhatia said, “Conducting Army Day Parade at any other place will create logistical problems as it is synchronized with Republic Day Parade.”

Don’t change the custom

This is a superficial exercise, and altering the names of the institutions does not alter their history or mission. Numerous have been renamed, and the omission of one makes little impact. Numerous Indian Army regiments have universally conformed to the traditions and standards of Independent India throughout the years. A few units raised under the British government’s rule and older than 200 years are examples. The rich history of the Indian Army cannot be wished away.

“We cannot tinker with this time-tested and successful unit ethos. Hodson’s Horse or Jangi Paltan are names earned in battle, maybe in allegiance to another Crown, but the customs and traditions they follow are very much Indian. A COs Sainik Sammelan or a Regimental Dinner Night, or a ceremonial guard of honour are part of our regimentation. It instils discipline and a sense of pride in all ranks. 

“There are many practices and rituals that can be done away with. These are not at the paltan level but at an Army level. Like the need for a Republic Day parade as it is done now. 

“Changing a name is just cosmetic. But changing a deep-rooted custom is not. We officers grew up with the Chetwode Motto. It was our honour code. “Our own welfare and comfort come last every time.” Chetwode may have been a Brit, but our honour code stood the test of time. Why should we change it?” says Maj Gen Jose.

The Indian Army has evolved throughout the years, and all ranks now wear the same uniform, except ceremony-specific outfits worn by particular divisions. The Indian military is administered by the Army, Air Force, and Navy Acts. The Army is equipped with the Manual of Indian Military Legislation and the Defence Services Regulations, both of which have been updated and reflect the Nation’s current law.

Most contemporary military bases and cantonments are named after Indian Bravehearts who have served our country and given their lives. Most AWHO and AFNHB organizations are named after Indian recipients of valour awards.

The officers’ messes have a custom of hosting dinner evenings or guest nights, after which a glass of water is raised in a toast to the President of India.

“Atmanirbharta is good for the Nation. Changing customs, traditions and good practices just for the sake of it is not a good idea. Change is certainly eternal. But let’s not rush into it. An old soldier is meant to just fade away. But we’d like to go away secure in the knowledge that the sentinels of our Nation stand strong,” adds Maj Gen Jose.


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