Thursday, March 16, 2006

Indian Army's Muslim headcount: Muslims number less but a glorious tradition of service and sacrifice

Quite a lot of hue and cry was raised over the proposal for a so-called 'census' of Muslims in Indian Army.

After the Sachar panel had hinted that the number of Muslims in the armed forces could be sought, there was opposition from several sections against the proposed headcount on basis of religion.

There is no official report. However, the strength of Muslims is roughly around 3 % and the figure comes around 29,000 in the million-strong Indian army, according to news channel CNN IBN's programme titled Minority Report.

If the number of Muslims serving in Jammu and Kashmir [J&K] infantry that has over 50% Muslims and those in other wings not directly dealing with warfare are excluded, the proportion is definitely too low.

So out of a Muslim population of nearly 150 million [15 crore] in India, barely 29,000 Muslims were found suitable for recruitment in the Indian Army.

There has been a lot of controversy but these figures neither surprise nor sadden me. The fact remains that if competent, a Muslim can rise in India to the highest position in any services including army, and has more chances than any other country.
IH Latif was head of Indian Air force

This is my belief despite all the charges of discrimination, communal riots and experiences of bias. There are Muslim officers serving in Indian army at senior levels.

Idris Hassan Latif, more commonly known as IH Latif, rose to the position of Air Chief Marshal. Latif, who later served as Governor of Maharashtra and Ambassador to France, was head of Indian Air Force from 1978 to 1981.

The role and bravery of Muslim officers and army in fauj has been second to none. Brigadier Usman gave his life fighting in Kashmir and it was the effort at Uri, that the invaders couldn't get advantage in the turbulent period, soon after partition.

The gallantry of Havildar Abdul Hamid is known to all and sundry. His valour in the Khemkaran sector during 1965 war is now part of Indian army's folklore.

Hamid was posthumously given the highest gallantry award--the Paramvir Chakra. In the Kargil war, Captain Hanifuddin was amongst the first of officials to lay their lives for the motherland.

The legacy of these war heroes--their bravery and sacrifice for the nation, must be carried forward. Muslims surely need to be given more opportunities during the army induction exams and the recruitment drives. It should not be limited to political speeches eulogising Muslim jawans' service for the country.

In communal riots, army has always been welcomed by Hindus and Muslims alike, as the local police force is often charged of communal biases. Army's neutrality remains undisputed, as everyone trusts it, completely. Lately there have been efforts to increase the strength of Muslims and other minorities in army, paramilitary forces and police.

Perhaps, there is need for specials camps and recruitment drives in different regions of the country, for Muslims, so that they can also get a fair chance for entry into the army and it serve it. These steps will hopefully change the situation.

[Photo of Brigadier Mohammad Usman, courtesy the website of Indian Parachute Regiment]