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India Was Divided on Basis of Religion and the Army Was Also Similarly Divided Making the Indian Army a "Hindu Army"

Updated on June 18, 2019
emge profile image

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters

Sikh soldiers of the British Indian army
Sikh soldiers of the British Indian army
Muslim soldier of the BIA at Dunkirk
Muslim soldier of the BIA at Dunkirk


The Raj in India appeared omnipotent in 1929. This was the time when Edwin Lutyens handed over the newly completed building site of New Delhi to the Viceroy Lord Irwin. Most people in India and England believed that they had created the capital of India to commemorate the Raj and it will last for at least 100 years. History, however, does not follow the beaten track and by 1947 the British had to pack their bags and leave India.

Yasmeen Khan in her excellent book "The Raj at war" mentions that what changed everything within 18 years was the Second World War. In retrospect, we now can infer that the defeat of Hitler was a Pyrrhic victory for the British. The British always like the world to believe that they stood alone in 1940 against Nazi Germany but the fact is it was not that they stood alone because the Indian sub-continent provided the manpower that faced the onslaught off the Wehrmacht.

In 1929 nobody knew that Pakistan would be created because Jinnah was a small time player and the Indian Muslims had not asked for an independent Muslim state. Unfortunately, Gandhi had a very short-sighted policy and he alienated the Muslim community by resorting to measures like Hindu prayers at Congress gatherings and reading the Gita every day at his ashram. The vast majority of Muslims felt he was not their leader and thus within 18 years the concept of a separate Muslim state gathered momentum.

Jinnah who was a small-time leader was catapulted as an equivalent leader to Gandhi. The concept of the two Nation theory was conceived. The basis of this theory was that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together in the subcontinent and thus the Muslims must have a separate state.

Troops of Punjabis at Malakand uprising 1897
Troops of Punjabis at Malakand uprising 1897
Indian Sepoys during WW I
Indian Sepoys during WW I

Two nation theory

This two Nation theory also affected the British Indian army which till 1947 was a composite force consisting of Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus. However, it must be understood that the British confined their recruitment to the army to those they considered as the martial races of the subcontinent. In this, they included the Sikhs Dogra, Rajput, and Punjabi Muslims. They also recruited Baluch and Pathan as part of the Martial clan. The idea of separate caste based regiments was due to different food habits and style of living.

The British general staff conceived of the idea of regiments based on caste system only. The caste system in the Indian army continues to the 21st century. The Pakistan army which is also a mutant of the British Indian army still continues with the martial classes concept and most of the soldiers of the Pakistan army are Punjabi Muslims and Pathans

The British Indian army in India numbered about 250,000 soldiers during the days of the Raj. At the beginning of World War II, there were about 190,000 enlisted soldiers in the BIA. The war against Hitler resulted in massive recruitment of Hindus and Sikhs for the British Indian army with the result that at its peak at the end of the war in 1945, the army had grown to a strength of 2.5 million. Despite this massive growth, the British maintained the class composition of the British Indian army. The Muslim regiments had their own battle cry of "Allah O Akbar." Similarly the Sikh, Gurkha and other the Hindu regiments had their own war cries as well.

Muslim soldiers

The Muslims soldiers have a very distinct part to play in the British Indian army. The first Victoria Cross ever by an Indian soldier was by awarded to a Muslim and his statue adorns the entrance to the Pakistan army headquarters in Rawalpindi. More than 400,000 Muslim soldiers served with the British Indian army and fought with distinction in the battles in France, Mesopotamia, and Burma.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah had a big hand in this and helped recruit thousands of Muslims for the British Indian army. The British Indian army also included massive numbers of Sikhs who have been linked with the British army since 1857, when the first Sikh regiment call the "Rattray's Sikhs" was formed. This was during the rule of the East India company. The British did not open the recruitment of Hindus to all and only Hindu's from the martial classes like the Dogras, Rajputs and Gurkhas were included in the British Indian army.

Sikh soldiers of the 4th Indian division WWII of the 8th Army
Sikh soldiers of the 4th Indian division WWII of the 8th Army
Hindu soldiers of the BIA
Hindu soldiers of the BIA

Collapse of the Raj

At this critical juncture in 1947 when freedom was around the corner the British Indian army was going through a traumatic crisis. A composite army consisting of Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus was to be broken up
Many people ask me as to how come after the handing over of New Delhi by Lutyens to the viceroy in 1929, within a space of 18 years the Raj collapsed. Historians and other writers have opined that the Raj collapsed because it lost control of the Indian army which was the main instrument in consolidating their occupation of India.

Gandhi was only a fringe player and during this period was traveling around the country. He was in sympathy with the British and in South Africa during his 20 years stay supported the British Raj and carried out recruitment for the British army during World War 1. This fact is not publicized in India.

Bad situation

The situation was so bad that in 1946, Lord Atlee in an address to the House of Commons stated that Britain would leave India not later than 1948. He also mentioned that the subcontinent would be divided on the basis of religious lines. This brought out an unsavory fact for the Indian army that it would also be divided into religious lines. Army headquarters under the absolute control of Field Marshal Lord Wavell and later Lord Auchinleck proposed the Muslim regiment should be allotted to Pakistan.

The Hindu and Sikh regiment would form part of India. The Muslim regiments constituted about 30% of the British Indian army strength. The Punjab, Balooch and Frontier troops were transferred to Pakistan and the balance left behind consisted of only two percent Muslims. The Hindu regiments including the Gurkha regiment, the Jat regiment, and the Sikh regiments were incorporated into the Indian army.

Is the Indian army a Hindu army?

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Hindu army

The question which many have asked me is since Pakistan became a theocratic state and their army is considered a Muslim army, should the IA be considered a "Hindu army." The Indian army claims it is a secular army but the fact is that 98% of the army is Hindu/Sikh.

The Indian army is shy of calling itself a "Hindu army" though it is de facto a Hindu army. It is in the fitness of things to refer to the Indian army as a Hindu army.
Much water has flown down the river since 1947 and the departure of the English. The heritage of the Indian army is traced to its incorporation as a militia from the time of the East India company at the turn of the 19th century.

The articles of War 1893, incorporated during the days of the Raj form the basis of the Indian army. The caste division continues in the 21st century. People who read this article may like to think and comment as to whether the perpetuation of the caste division coupled with the religious divide is good for the Indian army. It must be mentioned that this caste division has not been a hindrance in war and the Indian army has won many wars with this composition. As it stands, I have no hesitation in saying that the Indian army is basically a Hindu army and one cannot get away from that fact.


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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      20 months ago from Singapore

      Thank you Lt Col for your comment. The Indian army is a Hindu army and it does not have any troops that echo the war cry of the Muslim soldiers "Allah o Akbar"

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      20 months ago from Singapore

      Thank you, John, for your valued comment.

    • profile image

      Lt Col Parduman Singh 

      20 months ago

      Very interesting. I have served in the army for 35 years and feel it's about time the Hindus have some pride and allow the word "Hindu army" to be used. There is no need to feel shy of it.

    • GoldenRod LM profile image

      John R Wilsdon 

      20 months ago from Superior, Arizona USA

      Interesting asides about Gandhi, and a very thoughtful article. I enjoyed reading about the Indian Army.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      20 months ago from Singapore

      Dear Readmikenow, thanks for commenting.

    • Readmikenow profile image


      20 months ago

      Excellent article. I was always fascinated when a friend from Pakistan could speak his language of Urdu with someone who spoke Hindi, but he told me he could not read Hindi. If in India, he could not read the signs. I enjoyed reading this and learning about Indian history.


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