As per media reports, the Punjab State Scheduled Castes Commission has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revive the ‘Chamar Regiment’ in the Army (http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/revive-chamar-regiment-in-army-sc-panel-urges-pm/500022.html). The Commission has also requested the Prime Minister to set up a chair in ‘any’ university to highlight the achievements of the Chamar Regiment. The request letter reportedly has been signed by Rajesh Bagha, Chairman of the Commission as the Commission feels this would provide the scheduled caste youth better opportunity to serve the country. The suggestion for setting up a chair in ‘any’ university to highlight the achievements of the Chamar Regiment itself indicates the cloistered approach of the Commission, which obviously is out of synch from the ground realities of present day India and in the Indian Army. Do you need a chair in a university to highlight achievements of one single regiment of the huge British Indian Army / Indian Army or would it be better for Rajesh and his commission members to author a book on the subject and distribute it free / put it online if they so feel the need?
There is no doubt that British Indian Army had a Chamar Regiment that also participated in World War II against the Japanese. In fact the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Kohima in Nagaland, which also marks the location of the tree up to which the Japanese had advanced, has names of two martyrs of the Chamar Regiment engraved in the Roll of Honour. The media, quoting Bagha, has covered following main issues: the Chamar Regiment in British Army was formed on recommendation of a committee, which was constituted to find out martial and non-martial races in India; further research was conducted to identify martial castes among the scheduled castes, based on which the Indian British Government constituted the Chamar Regiment in March 1943; headquartered in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, the Chamar Regiment remained in the British Indian Army up to 1946, after which it was banned (read disbanded) due to “unforeseen circumstances”.
Bagha reportedly goes on to say in his letter, “It is strange that the Sikh Regiment, Jat Regiment, Gorkha Regiment and Dogra Regiment formed on the basis of caste or religion continues to exist, while the Chamar Regiment was disbanded. As there is no reservation in the Army, scheduled caste youths are not getting commissioned into it. On the other hand, other castes and religions are getting “indirect” reservation on basis of their status of being martial and non-martial races. The questions that the Punjab State Scheduled Castes Commission leaves unanswered is as follows:-
- Who is a Chamar in India of today? Would anybody be like to be called Chamar? Would Bagha like to be called a Chamar? Are there any Chamars in the Punjab State Scheduled Castes Commission?
- British made the distinction of martial and non-martial to meet their own twisted objectives, but are there any martial and non-martial races in India? More significantly, does Bagha know there is no such distinction within the Indian Army? Even the Mahar Regiment that Bagha mentions is a first rate infantry regiment of the Indian Army, like any other infantry regiment.
- Doesn’t the British disbanding the Chamar Regiment in 1946 due to “unforeseen circumstances” indicate they knew Independence was around the corner, and that their divide and rule policy would not be acceptable in the Indian Army?
- The Mahar Regiment, quoted in Bagha’s letter sure was originally intended by the British to be a regiment consisting of troops from the Mahar community of Maharashtra, but that did not remain the case after Independence. Besides, these troops are not non-martial by any account even if the British considered them so?
Considering the above, many clarifications are required from the Punjab State Scheduled Castes Commission. Are they recommending a ‘Chamar Regiment’, a ‘Scheduled Caste Regiment’, a ‘Scheduled Caste-cum-Scheduled Tribes Regiment’, or a ‘Dalit Regiment’? How does one define the “oppressed” or “backward” anyway and what about reservations; with every political party claiming ownership of Dr BR Ambedkar, eulogizing him at every step, but not adhering to his dictum of restricting reservations to a decade beyond promulgating the Constitution? In fact, Dr Ambedkar would be turning in his grave witnessing how reservations continue to be exploited in present day India for political gains – the promises and skullduggery during election campaigns, as being witnesses in the run up to the forthcoming Gujarat polls. Not without reason, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates calls India’s education system his biggest disappointment.
The irony has been that instead of bringing up the education standards of the deprived, reservations in government institutions have lowered the standards for ‘reservists’ – resulting in overall degraded output. And, how many of those officially rated ‘oppressed’ or ‘deprived’ are / have been multimillionaires or billionaires for how many decades, with their dynasties continuing to enjoy the fruits of a the system while wallowing in moolah – simply because those in power will never link reservations to poverty at ground level? But talking of reservations, why doesn’t Bagha not recommend an ‘Arunachal Regiment’, ‘Meghalaya Regiment’, Sikkim Regiment’, ‘Andhra Regiment’, ‘Himachal Regiment’, Odisha Regiment’, why only a ‘Madras Regiment‘ and why not also a ‘Kerala Regiment’, so on and so forth?
But most importantly, does the Punjab State Scheduled Castes Commission and its Chairman Rajesh Bagha know how many units in the entire India Army (not Infantry alone) are open to all Indians and that Sikh, Dogra, Jat etc are not castes anyway? Would it shock them to know that the Special Forces of India are open to all Indians? Should the Commission want to sponsor youth (whom they ironically consider “Chamar”), they would be readily accepted provided they have the brawn and the brains (no reservations please) to get through the selection process. Ironically, some commissions in the past even approached the government for appointing certain individuals as Army Commanders and equivalents, even Service Chiefs on grounds of reservations / minorities etc – which is ludicrous. The Indian Army is the finest set up and the most secular organization in the country. There are many other ways to prove and work for the objectives of the Punjab State Scheduled Castes Commission. There is no need to mess with the Indian Army’s fabric. A frog in the well approach for scoring political brownie points is detrimental to national interests.