Khaki and the Ethnic Violence in India By Omar Khalidi, Three Essays, Rs 350
Communal and ethnic violence has always played a major role in the history of our nation. That there might be a link between such violence and the ethnic composition of our armed and police forces has been mostly overlooked in the past. Omar Khalidi sees the problem from a new perspective. He suggests that the ethno-religious composition of the forces gave birth to communal feelings at times. Although delegated the responsibility of maintaining peace and harmony, the forces suffered from communal bias and hence at times were used by the state as an instrument of legitimate coercion.
Drawing his data from interviews given by officers in the armed, paramilitary and police forces, Khalidi presents a comparative study of the forces in different states of India to suggest how political interference and recruitment policies have nurtured these communal feelings. He gives examples of discrimination in the armed forces where representation of the minority community has been terribly low. “Muslims in the Army are deprived of Friday prayers and even from growing beards, though their Sikh counterparts are allowed to follow their religious customs”, says Khalidi.
Sometimes senior army officers’ comments have provoked communal sentiments. General B.C. Joshi, chief of army staff, had once exhorted his troops to “follow the path of Dharma” and the “normal obligations enshrined in the two Vedas”. General K.M. Cariappa had openly accused Muslims of being loyal only to Pakistan. He was echoed by the defence minister, George Fernandes, in 1985: “Whether we want to admit it or not, most Indians consider Muslims a fifth column for Pakistan.” Khalidi tries to explain the low percentage of Muslims in the armed forces by way of this mistrust. Muslims, for example, have been accused of cheering Pakistani athletes and mourning their defeats.
However, Khalidi’s statements seem a bit exaggerated as his sole intention appears to be to highlight only areas where Muslims have been the victims of gross injustice and discrimination. He tries to prove that some groups are over-represented in the armed forces at the cost of other groups. This, he suggests, has nothing to do with efficiency but is mainly a fallout of the coercive state policy. Khalidi also hints that Muslims in the forces have never been allowed to rise beyond a certain level. Non-representation of Muslims in the national security guards and special protection group is another lapse. Perhaps Khalidi’s suggestions need to be pondered on.