Martial and Non-Martial Races, the British and the Indian Army During the Raj
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Martial and Non-Martial Races, the British and the Indian Army During the Raj

The British in the concept of the martial race. They based their judgment on Indian history and their personal experience. Hindu caste system always recognized the martial class as the Kshatriyas and other lower castes were forbidden to bear arms on pain of death. The British amplified this concept based on their personal experience in India.

Is there anything like martial and non-martial races? Modern sociologists do not lend much credence to such concepts, but over the centuries some races have been recognized as fighters, mainly because they faced the brunt of invasions.  The British applied this concept to India and recruited men for the British Indian army only from the martial clans or races. They classified the Sikhs, Gurkhas, Rajputs, Dogras and some other races as martial and confined recruitment only from these clans and races.

Martial Races

The British based their judgment on Indian history and their personal experience. Hindu caste system always recognized the martial class as the Kshatriya's and other lower castes were forbidden to bear arms on pain of death. The British amplified this concept based on their personal experience in India. One fact that they gave great credence to was loyalty,thus those races like the Sikhs and Gurkhas who did not side against the British during the 1857 mutiny were given greater prominence.

The British Experience

 Recruitment was confined only to the martial castes. From their experience the British categorized the Sikhs, Jats, Gurkhas, Dogras and Garwalis as martial and gave them preference in recruitment into the Army. Races which the British considered Non martial like the people of Utter Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Bengal were not recruited into the British Indian army. The caste and class composition of the Indian army was retained by the Indian government after independence.

Last word

The caste based regiments gave a good account of themselves in battle and were a great help to the Allies in their ultimate triumph over the Axis powers.  In addition the British during their long reign used these caste based regiments to good effect in battles in China and Mesopotamia. A small platoon of 21 Sikh soldiers held almost 10,000 Muslim Afghan tribal’s at bay for 24 hours in the battle of Sargarahi in 1897. They were also used for the comquest of Tibet in 1903/04

 Thus one cannot make a sweeping statement that there is nothing like a martial race. Even in earlier times the Spartans and the Mongols were considered a martial race. One can however say that with the advent of latest technology and the Kalashnikov, the battle lines have become more equal. After all the LTTE fought desperately with suicide bombers against a predominant Sinhala army. Perhaps it was an act of desperation and is one of the underlying principles of a martial race.

 Sikh troops during the days of the Raj

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