Why are Muslims missing from Army?
By Ali Ahmed
Financial Times, 16 June 2012
platinum jubilee issue of the
Indian Military Academy magazine
tells us that only six Muslim
officers who have passed out of ima
have made the supreme sacrifice for the
country since the 1971 war. Only one, late
Captain Haneefuddin of Kargil fame, has
been awarded a higher gallantry medal, a
Vir Chakra, since then. Only one Muslim
gentleman cadet has won the academy’s
sword of honour post-independence. Such
meagre statistics for a minority community
comprising 13 percent of India naturally
raises the question: Why?
Gen JJ Singh declined to permit access
to the statistics on the numbers of
Muslims in the army to the Sachar Committee.
The reason was that the army, as
a secular institution, does not maintain
religion-based statistics. However, that
it has such records is self-evident since it
needs to know how to dispose off the mortal
remains of deceased soldiers in war.
Presumably, it has never got round to toting
these up. This could well turn out to be
a wise decision, since the numbers would
have proved embarrassing to the secular
credentials of India and its army.
One educated guesstimate puts the figure
of Muslims in the army at 29,000 or 2.5
percent. To arrive at the number of officers,
the consequential ranks, the biannual
magazines of the Indian Military Academy
provide an opening. The magazines carry
a one-line pen portrait of each gentleman
cadet (gc). From a study of six issues over
the recent past (2005-11), it is evident only
45 have made it to the ‘antim pag’ or final
step to the cadences of Auld Lang Syne.
The figure includes those from friendly
foreign countries such as Afghanistan.
Since the ima commissions over 1,300
gcs a year, this implies that just about
one per cent Muslims gain the officers’
commission from the Academy.
Admittedly, there are other routes for
officers’ commission. This means that the
numbers making it are marginally higher
and must be viewed against the 1,800 getting
commissioned a year. The number
of Muslim women officers can be easily
imagined. These compare somewhat
poorly with the civil services list on which
30 Muslims figured this year amongst
about 900 that ‘made it’.
Not only are Muslims few, but are also
wanting in leadership potential. Of the 136
gc appointments scanned in the six biannual
issues, only one was Muslim. Beginning
with this leadership deficit, it is easy
to reckon as to why there were no officer
instructors in two terms (2008 and 2011)
examined by studying faculty photos.
There is not a single Muslim name in the
training faculty, the administrative staff
and worse, even the academic department.
Among the non-officer instructors
there are nine Muslims. Not tenanting
such prestigious appointments early on,
the problem persists with very few making
it to higher ranks. The academy has
had only one Muslim Commandant and
one Subedar Major since Independence.
In other words, there is a cascading effect
of the deficit of Muslim youth making it to
Assimilating these facts, first one has to
ascertain whether a diverse country such
as is India is better off with its army reflecting
its diversity. The reflexive answer
of a traditionalist can easily be anticipated:
If the army is working as an apolitical and
secular organisation, there is no need to
‘tinker’ with it.
A VIEW TO the contrary would be
that there is a double disadvantage
to under-representation: one is that
fewer numbers represent a handicap at the
standing start, and second is not gaining
access to consequences of representation
such as the Sixth Pay Commission bonanza.
The former makes the equity gap only
widen, adding to the deficit at the start.
This makes the representativeness of
the army, or otherwise, a political question.
While affirmative action is not the
answer, an internal review by the ministry
can throw up any attitudinal and structural
biases these statistics suggest. As a first
step, the army must carry out a campaign
to attract a whole host of under-represented
communities, such as those from
the Northeast. This has been done by the
central armed police forces over the past
decade of expansion that has brought up
Muslim numbers to 6 percent. Additionally,
Muslims can set up swatting classes to
help its youth.
The courts cannot be oblivious to the
fact that India’s Muslims are well-represented
only in prison statistics, comprising
19 percent of inmates. The government
must gear up political courage to put the
courts, and wider society, wise to facts that
otherwise stare India in the face.
Ali Ahmed is Assistant Professor,
Jamia Millia Islamia