Secularism in the army

Secularism in the army

Plurality of religions, religious pluralism (the view that all religions are equal), and cultural (and communal) concerns greatly influence the various ways in which secularism in India developed and is looked at even now. Unfortunately, in India secularism is more of a subject of politics than of metaphysics or even values.

But in the Indian Army it is absolute secularism with equal respect to all religions, in spite of the fact that infantry, the major component of the Army, comprises of regiments based on caste, creed, culture or race like the Sikh, Maratha, Dogra, Jat, Gorkha, Mahar, Rajput and so on. This may be because the Indian army and most of its procedures and practices have been an inheritance of the British Indian army.

Regardless of its history, today the reality is that even if there is one major caste in a unit, the officers, non-combatants and ministerial staff belong to different castes or religions. Everyone attends the shabad kirtan, namaz, morning mass or mandir parade equally like they belong to that caste or community. During my service in the army, I have been witness to a staunch musalman or Christian bowing before the altar of other religions and vice versa in absolute obeisance. This seldom happens in civil society.

On one occasion in 1986 in my Sikh Light Infantry battalion on a Baisakhi day, I was thrilled to see a granthi, a maulvi, a pastor and a pandit all under one roof in the unit gurudwara offering prayers and participating in the festival. In my opinion, there can never be a better portrait of national integration or secularism.

On another occasion as narrated by my senior Mai Bali, he and his family were having dinner in the Superintendent of Police Hyderabad, ex-Major Basith’s place when communal riots were taking place outside in the city. The peaceful dinner between these two people belonging to different religions didn’t once get affected by the mood of the riots outside.

Even in my apartment complex, on the storey I reside, there is a Muslim commercial pilot, a Christian business executive and two Hindu families living in perfect harmony. The government hasn’t found the need to reorganise the Army along different lines either. The caste-based structure somehow works in the army in spite of having commanders not belonging to the same caste. And these commanders consider their unit as their own family, staying together in peace times and during war. It probably works because the army is a disciplined unit which exists and functions only because of its discipline.

Secularism is a kind of Hobson’s choice for India’s integrity and the Army is the role model for that. For an Indian soldier, his religion is the Indian Army or the nation and the faith he belongs to doesn’t matter as much. I wish our entire country follows in the footsteps of our Army.

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