Praveen Swami responds

Manvendra Singh's defence of the army's colonial-era culture of feudal deference completely misses the point.

First, the facts: what happened in Nyoma wasn't, as Mr. Singh asserts, a case of “fisticuffs.” The enlisted men of the 226 did not just attack their officers, responsible for the brutal beating of a sahayak, in a moment of rage. They staged protest marches in Nyoma; organised vigilante squads; occupied the armoury. These are not small things.

Mr. Singh argues that there is a “basic flaw” in my proposition that class tension fired this revolt. “For if that were the case,” he claims, “then the Army would long have been reduced to an institution wrecked by confronting its thousand inbuilt mutinies.”

Really? India's society, from which the army is drawn, also suffers from multiple tensions of class. From time to time, these tensions have exploded. India has not been “wrecked by confronting its thousand inbuilt mutinies.” This does not mean, though, that the mutinies do not exist.

Mr. Singh's defence of the army's deference-based culture is similarly untenable. The very term sahib denotes a relationship based on social deference; a brief glance at the etymology of the term and its usage in Indian armies since the 16th century would settle Mr. Singh's evident confusions on this count. The term itself, though, isn't the issue: the culture which it signifies is.

Even today, the children of enlisted men now clawing their way into the officer cadre are subjects of condescension and worse; senior officers in the military have gone to lengths to conceal the fact that their fathers served as enlisted men. Evidence of a class divide? Mr. Singh might wish to take a closer look at the wedding invitation cards he receives from friends in the military; he will have his answer.

The bottom line is this: the Indian Army is not a band of brothers. Five decades ago, a centuries-old culture of deference provided the glue. Now, as the egalitarian tides set in motion by democracy reshape the values and world-view of enlisted men, that glue is washing away.

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Printable version | Jul 1, 2022 1:18:51 pm |