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Sunday, October 13, 2013

muslim underrepresentation in the military

Doing more with the military

1-15 September 2013

A leading military school in the country recently compiled the list of cadets that had entered its portals ever since it was founded pre-Independence. Of 2896 cadets that have entered its precincts since Independence, only 28 had Muslim names. You can do your maths; but the statistic bespeaks of several things. One is certainly that the odds appear to be stacked against our young boys for they perhaps not only do not know of such opportunities, but are also sloven in contesting for them and finally are unable to clear the admission tests. There are several reasons that can explain this away: poor if improving economic and literacy levels, low standards of schooling that prevents their being competitive and perhaps  opp
ortunities elsewhere such as in the Gulf, that keeps them away from chasing down such vacancies. However, the statistic also suggests the levels of engagement of the Muslim community with the security sector in the country.
In light of this it was heartening to read that 10 young lads from AMU have cleared the National Defence Academy test. This can be attributed in part to the leadership team in AMU comprising former military men: the VC and Registrar. It remains to be seen if this becomes a trend. If so it would increase the number of Muslim names on the merit lists that are usually scrutinised by some organisations with religious affiliation, including sometimes this publication (Milligazette), for the presence (and absence) of Muslims. While there is much ‘halla bulloo’ over Muslims cracking the civil services, such as the inspiring Kashmiri doctor topping the exam recently, those entering into the military and the security services, such as the paramilitary, receive less accolade. There is a case for a concerted attempt by the community to redress this under-representation.
The earlier explanations for lack of Muslim representation in the security services including the military, cannot work forever. Some of these such as the invidious suggestion that Muslims are ‘kept out’ due to some unacknowledged policy of covert discrimination does not merit serious attention. A fact needs acknowledging that the community has neglected this avenue of social mobility, economic opportunity and service to the wider nation. At Independence and soon thereafter, there was an exodus of the Muslim elite and middle classes for the ‘land of the pure’ and further westwards to the extent that curiously the largest community of South Asian language speakers in the US today comprises those speaking Urdu. Even if a proportion of these exited from Pakistan, a good number are former Indian Muslims, no doubt largely of ‘Ashraf’ lineage, who have abandoned their larger community that includes the ‘underclass’ of ‘Arzal’ and ‘Ajlaf’, for better climes. The next destination soon thereafter has been the Middle East, to which Indian Muslims have headed but only to be treated with mildly condescending tolerance. In effect, Indian Muslims have not focussed on opportunities that have been theirs for the taking in their neighbourhood – the ‘low hanging fruit’. Therefore, ‘Muslims keeping away’ better explains the speculative figure, not officially acknowledged, that there are about 29000 Muslims in the million-strong Indian Army.
Being frank about this can help redress the scale of underrepresentation. The onus is on the community to sign up for a life in uniform. There are several advantages in doing so. The foremost is that some of the largesse, that is indeed the defence budget amounting to over Rs 250 crores, will get channelled into Muslim homes. This has potential to lift economic indices of the community. An example is the density of Muslim servicemen and ex-servicemen in Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan. They are considerably better off than most other Muslim communities. The advantages that  certain other communities, such as the Sikhs and mountain folk, that have lent their shoulder to the national security enterprise can then be shared more widely across the land.
Second, there is benefit for the security sector in that a greater representativeness is made possible by entry of Muslims in greater numbers. Knowledge and understanding occurs that translates as operation gains. This can be useful when, say, the Army is deployed in Kashmir or the paramilitary is deployed in Muslim majority areas. That ignorance fuels apprehension is well appreciated. With Muslim compatriots in their midst dispelling any negative ‘Muslim’ stereotype, the paramilitary and military would be more mature, restrained, in their response to violence.

Finally, the school list had the pre Independence era entries. The first 28 Muslim names on that list were among the first 100, implying that close to one third of the cadets were Muslims. From the number cadets with ‘Khan’ as surname it can be surmised that these belonged to the erstwhile ‘martial races’ in which the Pathan and Punjabi Musalman communities, now in Pakistan, were prominent. The fact is that today the figure has fallen to less than one-fiftieth of that. The martial race theory having been jettisoned along with colonialism, it is time that Muslims came out of the shadows of Partition. The fact remains that for some thousand years Muslims had a say in the security of the subcontinent. They have to gain a seat at the national security high table by dint of placing their sons in harm’s way. On a lighter note, from the over-representation of the community in prisons – reportedly at 19 per cent – for reasons not gone into here, it is clear that there is sufficient energy, initiative and courage in youngsters that can potentially be channelled into martial pursuit to the betterment of all – the individual, community and nation. 

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