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The Martial Races of India: Recruitment by Ethnicity in the British Indian Army

Last updated: 28 April 2016

Recorded on 22 February 2016

Using new content from the National Army Museum's Indian Army collections, Jasdeep Singh examines how certain races in India were identified, studied and groomed to form regiments in the British Indian Army.


Jasdeep Singh:

I am going to start and begin with a very simple but profound stat. In 1914, 75 per cent of the British Indian Army comprised men of just three provinces: Punjab, North West Frontier and Nepal.

This raised many questions in my mind when researching this topic. What was so special about these men? Did men of the other regions not possess the same martial qualities? And, perhaps most fundamental, what qualities constitute people being 'martial'?

I hope today to answer some of these questions, but inevitably many new questions will arise in the process.

My own journey of research on the topic of the 'martial races' began here. This is an image of one of the stacks in the National Army Museum stores. And this particular stack holds the official handbooks of the Indian Army, which give background and guidance on recruitment.

I was astounded at the in-depth study of these people. It made me feel somewhat uncomfortable, as a person of Indian origin, to see reports identifying the clans from each village that would make the best soldiers. From these handbooks I learnt the somewhat dark but necessary nature of recruitment.

My curiosity led me inevitably to the handbook of my own heritage, a handbook of the Sikhs. Whilst looking at the recommendations for recruiting amongst lists of districts and 'tehsils', and their martial value from 'fair' to 'good', I find the 'tehsil', or town, that I was born in, just there: Jagraon. My mother's maiden name also features and is listed as one of the principal tribes here, Grewal.

It turns out, actually, that Jagraon, or my 'tehsil', was valued as 'very good'. Perhaps I may have been recruited, if I had been there at that time.

But I read on. And then I find a list of popular festivals for recruiting. And lo and behold, I find Roshni Mela, just here. This was a festival I used to attend with my family as a child. Although there wasn't much by the way of recruitment when I was a child - and all I could really care about was the fireworks - this now makes me see the festival in a totally different light.

This was getting a bit too close to home for me. My great grandfather was a doctor with links in the Indian Army, the British Indian Army, and the Commonwealth War Graves lists almost 2,000 men from my district.

But let's close these handbooks for now, and we will return to them later.

Just to tell you a little bit about who I am. I currently lead on the research and dissemination of the National Army Museum's Indian Army Collection with a project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, called 'Brothers in Arms'.

The NAM's Indian Army Collection was long regarded as a cornerstone of the museum's holdings. The collection spans over 250 years, some 100,000 object parts, and charts the relationship between Britain and India, both as enemies and allies. The project aims to research, catalogue, digitise and disseminate this under-used collection.

I don't have a book to sell you today, but I do have another agenda. I have just completed the digitisation strand of this project which has generated some 21,000 newly digitised images. Most of these images have never been seen by the public or published before. So my agenda today is also to promote the NAM's Indian Army Collection and encourage you all to make use of this untapped resource.

The entire content of my lecture today is taken from the NAM's Indian Army Collection. I have tried to make use of these newly digitised images and shed some new light and also support some existing viewpoints on the subject.

The nature of today's lecture is in essence about classification of people. There are many different ways to categorise or classify people, such as through region, religion or class, and rank even. And you see I have fashioned this system into the stripes, albeit upside down at this stage.

But sanctioned by the 'shastras', or scriptures, in Hinduism is a class, or 'varna', system that divides all Hindus into four castes. This is very much a hierarchy system and sitting at the top are the knowledgeable academics, known as the Brahmins. And these Brahmins enjoyed the life of the elite. And even kings seek advice from Brahmins.

The Kshatriyas are next in line, and these are the kings or the warriors. They are natural-born fighters and historically they were India's stoutest defenders against foreign invasion, and actually perfect for an army you would think. We will find out later how that works.

Below them sit the Vaishyas. These are land owners or farmers. And at the bottom sit the peasants or the labourers and they are known as the Shudras.

You will also note that there is a separate class sitting below all four of these and these are called the Untouchables. And they were people that the other classes would not associate or work with. These people aren't even afforded the status of being a fifth class; they are simply referred to as Untouchables, or Dalits.

It's very difficult for one to climb up the pyramid to the class above. The class is passed down the generations and it's thought that 'karma', or fate, determines the class that person is born into. One can, however, fall down the ladder by associating with lower classes or breaking customs, such as intercaste marriages and sometimes even physical contact.

The surname or a second name of a person in India gives an indication of one's class and it also can carry information about their regional background or caste, or even race.

You see the dynamic difference here between the two; the Brahmin very much at the top of this pyramid and the Dalit who is actually outcaste and doesn't even sit within those four.

Additional stratification of people in India existed in the caste, or 'jati', system. And these were professions that naturally fit into the class system.

Race was linked more to geography, I feel, and it would be difficult to provide or go into depth about all of the 'martial races' in the given time that I have. But I have plotted the homes of some of the key 'martial races', or the key races identified by the British, because I feel that region is really a key thread in this talk.

Just a brief overview. You will see listed here with their regions... you see that the Gurkhas, very much in their own region hailing from Nepal, and they are said to be of Indo-Mongolic descent, somewhat linked to the Mongols. These men provided somewhat of a shock to the British in the first quarter on the 19th century and, needless to say, they would fit right in with the British Indian Army once trained in British drill.

The Rajputs, or the 'sons of kings', have always been seen as the defenders of India from invasion. And they sit in that warrior class that we mentioned before.

Most Muslim - or Mohammedans, as they were referred to - soldiers could link their ancestors with martial heritage of some sort or another, perhaps owing to the regions that they hailed from being very close to the turbulent Khyber Pass. These men were to provide a large proportion of the Indian Army in both wars, and it was also these men that India had lost in its partition in 1947.

It was Major Stringer Lawrence in 1747 that first began recruiting native Indians to form regiments on the British model. But perhaps Robert Clive is better known for this in raising the Lal Paltan, later known as the Baillie ki Paltan, the earliest Bengali Native Regiment.

These native armies helped the British see off competition from the French and gain control of the southern territories. With this, their concerns grew beyond trade and, with the decline of the Mughal Empire, the British were to establish themselves as a power in their own right.

As they marched up the country gaining troops from the lands they annexed, the British were able to control much of India. The last regions to fall under British rule were those of the north, and these offered tougher opposition, and thus admiration from the British.

British possessions in India were divided into three presidencies, and later armies, of Bengal, Madras and Bombay. The Madras and Bombay Armies recruited across the classes - all of those classes mentioned in the pyramid before, but even the Untouchables. However, the Brahmin-dominated Bengal Army had issues with taking orders from men of lower class, even if they were higher in rank.

Some protested at the carrying out of manual or digging tasks, construction work even, often leading to being covered in dirt... and that's really a sight associated normally with a Dalit. But with the reforms of the Bengal Army beginning to circulate amongst the men, the scholars and the knowledgeable began to speak out as this threatened their positions.

Many traditions of India seen as alien to the British were outlawed, such as the live burning of widows, known as 'sati'. Not a bad thing, I think.

This and the perceived Christianisation of India by missionaries began to upset these Brahmin priests. The influence of these men won the support of the entire Bengal Army and a storm was brewing. All that was needed was a catalyst.

This was to come in 1857 after the introduction of the new Enfield P53 Rifle. Sepoys [soldiers] were required to bite pre-greased rifles to release powder for loading. And the story is well documented and well known, for that reason I am going to keep that coverage quite brief, but essentially rumours began to circulate amongst the Bengal Army's sepoys that the cartridges of these rifles were deliberately greased with pig and cow fat - offensive to both Muslims and Hindus - in order to defile them.

What followed nearly expelled the British from India altogether, with almost the entire Bengal Army rebelling, led by the men of those higher classes that we saw. Control was regained with the assistance of the Gurkhas and the Sikhs, amongst others, but an important lesson nevertheless had been learnt.

But from this point a key shift to recruitment occurred after this event, with recommendations by the Peel Commission about the reorganisation of the Indian Army. The Brahmins and the Kshatriyas dominated regiments of the Bengal and they were identified as a threat. And the 'divide and conquer' concept was put forward at this date. It was suggested instead that regiments should be composed of men of all religions and races to form class company regiments, spreading thin the risk of unity and potential repeat rebellion.

And in this image, which is one of the newly digitised images - we have three versions of this album - but you will see... hopefully you can read that, but you will see a Sikh, a Punjabi Muslim and a Dogra, so essentially a Sikh, a Muslim and a Hindu put together in the same regiment.

We see how the loyalty of those that stood by Britain during the Indian Mutiny was portrayed in this fascinating music cover titled, 'How India Kept Her Word'. And this has only recently been digitised. A wonderful piece, I feel.

It says:

'Though mutineers some of them may have been,
They were not trusted soldiers of the Queen,
Not everywhere burns duty's sacred lamp
And disaffection lurks in every camp.
Britannia, do not blame, I beg of you,
The loyal many for the trait'rous few.'

The races that stayed loyal are mentioned and honoured in another verse. It says:

'If you want proof, if you desire to see
How India's Reply breath'd prophecy,
Turn to the page - the page all stain'd with gore,
The present page of India's frontier war.
The Sikhs! the Goorkhas! But for them
Your arms had prosper'd not.
The ties of creed, the ties of blood
For duty they forgot.'

And in the penultimate verse, it says:

'What of that scanty band of Sikhs
Who, standing - lions at bay -
Fought on till cut down, one by one,
Yet not a man gave way.'

I think the fact that these lyrics were put to music really helps embed the message of the martial races, but with an emotional undercurrent. It's really aimed towards the British public and it really helps establish these stereotypes or these views about these people. However, the message that seems to be painted here is that these were loyal races.

We can learn a lot about the British view of the warlike races in India by looking at the men that surrounded Lord Roberts. Of these men he writes, 'I had six orderlies attached to me - two Sikhs, two Gurkhas and two Pathans. The Sikhs and Gurkhas never left me for a day during the years I was in Afghanistan.'

These are four of those orderlies.

But he goes on and narrates a passage of history, and this is taken from his book 'Forty-One Years in India', and Lord Roberts says:

'My orderlies during this little episode displayed such touching devotion that it is with feelings of the most profound admiration and gratitude I call to mind their self-sacrificing courage. On this (as on many other occasions) they kept close around me, determined that no shot would reach me if they could prevent it; and on my being hit in the hand by a spent bullet, and turning to look around in the direction it came from, I beheld one of the Sikhs standing with his arms stretched out trying to screen me from the enemy which he could easily do, for he was a grand specimen of a man, a head and shoulders taller than myself.'

But here we draw parallels to the three provinces I mentioned at the start, at the beginning of my talk. These orderlies - the two Sikhs, the two Gurkhas and the two Pathans - came from the Punjab, North West Frontier and Nepal. It's also interesting to note that they came from the three major religions of India.

This is one of my favourite images. I spoke of loyalty as a desired martial quality before, but let's look at physical attributes. When recruiting men in the army, naturally you look for the biggest, strongest men available. Britain found these men in Punjab, and this peculiar image is accompanied by an insightful caption. It says:

'Some of the finest fighting material in the native army were recruited from the Sikhs who formed a very considerable portion of the Indian Army. The height of these recruits varies from 5ft 10in to 6ft 1in, and chest measurements from 34in to 36in deflated.'

Those dimensions fit me to the 'T', by the way. Perhaps it's another sign, I don't know.

But actually, what I find most interesting about this image is that the men are displayed and described almost as a 'best in show' manner. Actually, they aren't even referred to as men, only the words 'fighting material' and 'recruit' are used.

If height was an important quality or an attribute, then what about the Gurkhas? What of the Gurkhas? This image is a stark contrast to the one before. These men of Nepal were essentially a product of the British. They were trained in British drill and provided to be most useful and thus demanded respect from all opponents.

This slide - I apologise, it might be difficult to read - but it shows the average height of a Gurkha. We have got the periods that it covers and it is broken down by Central and Eastern Nepal. And if we look at the total and we go down to 'height', generally you see 5ft 3in all the way through. If we compare that to what we have just seen - 5ft 10in to about 6ft 1in - there is an interesting thread starting to appear. It actually contradicts.

So why were these men recruited? What was so special about them?

Speaking at the Nepal Durbar, Lord Kitchener reminds us of the qualities of these Gurkhas. He says, 'Should it fall to my lot to be appointed the leader of troops in case of serious war, I shall feel proud to have under my command the army of Nepal and to associate it with the Gurkhas of our army who have long been recognised as some of the bravest and most efficient soldiers.'

So, it seems that alongside loyalty and physical attributes, we should therefore add bravery as a list of these martial qualities.

The history of the Sikhs runs parallel to that of the Muslim Mughals and thus contains a lot of conflict between the two. The Mughal Emperors saw this small group as a challenge to their authority in the rejection of their ideologies by Sikh gurus. And as a result many Sikhs, as well as their gurus, were executed and martyred.

The ninth guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was beheaded in Delhi and he is said to have predicted the fall of the Mughals upon his death. Inspector of the Police, Ishar Singh in 1916 writes, 'You will remember that British rule was foretold by our true leader Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru. It was established in India for the protection and the help of the Sikhs.'

Perhaps it was this prophecy that led the Sikhs to help bring Delhi down during the mutiny. And although I can't really say that prophecy bears a lot of truth or is really viable - the concept of the British being in India purely for the sake of helping the Sikhs bring down Delhi? I don't think so. But actually what's quite interesting about that is perhaps it dictated the way the Sikhs operated and their motivations somewhat. So, we spoke of loyalty, but they had another agenda. They wanted to take that, I guess, revenge somewhat back to Delhi and to bring down the last of this Mughal Empire.

In 1699, aiming to arm his devotees, the 10th guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, initiated five men from five different castes in a new martial order called the Khalsa. He initiated them with the Pahul ceremony. These men drank the Pahul nectar from the same vessel - if you can make it out, it's a large vessel. And they, one by one, turn by turn, would drink from that same vessel. His intention was really to welcome men of all castes to the Khalsa. And previously the first guru laid down the foundations for a free kitchen where a meal could be shared by castes, all castes, sitting at the same level. This was called 'pangat'.

The 'five beloved men', as they came to be known, were given Singh as their last name. The word 'singh' is used across many martial races and, loosely translated, some translate this to 'lion' or 'tiger'. But perhaps the reason was to shed any traces of their class or caste. For if everyone had the same surname, everyone would essentially be seen as equal, at least on paper.

But from this point on, the Sikhs began to be initiated in the same manner. And having faced the Sikhs in two wars in the 1840s, the British learned that it was the Pahul ceremony that gave their Sikh opponents the fighting spirit that they admired.

After the Punjab was annexed, all Sikh recruits in the British Army were required to take the Pahul. It was actually a criteria and a requirement. The concept of the Khalsa, the 'pure', was to neutralise the caste system and appeal to Hindu men of lower classes. Mazhabi Sikhs were people who descended from sweepers - those outcaste groups of people that we saw before - and they were able to shed their shackles by taking the Pahul. For the first time they could potentially ascend in the class system.

There was still some class prejudice towards them, however. And though highly valued as a people, they mostly served as pioneers in construction tasks. But Kitchener in his own words says, 'Such men, the Sikhs - simple in their religion, free in not observing caste prejudice, manly in their warlike creed and in being true sons of the soil, not always quick of understanding, but brave, strong and true - are of priceless value to the Empire.'

Just very quickly I wanted to outline how the identity of these people - and almost every martial race had this element - had changed as a result of being recruited into the British Army.

This is a pair of Akali Sikhs, who are the initial warrior order in Punjab. And if we look at them, they have got these tall conical turbans with all sorts of emblems and symbols. They also wear a quoit around their neck, and this quoit was really their favourite weapon.

It was a razor-sharp, circular blade that was twirled around the finger before being hurled at speed towards the enemy. And these were seen as favourable more even to arrows, I guess. If you missed a target they would ricochet and hit others. As you moved forward, you could reuse them and pick them up. But they really became a symbol of these people's faith.

And as we see the influences from them being recruited into the British Army, that quoit - which was actually still a full weapon - was then reduced to a small symbol here to represent them as a people. The blue changed to khaki. These cummerbunds made of cloth changed to waist belts. The 'gatras' that hold their daggers, their 'kirpans', are cross belts with a bayonet instead.

And some of the other differences you can see is that Sikhs would traditionally wear their beards flowing open, like I have today. And in the army they had them, they were either... this one is quite short, but they would be curled up. And to some people they felt that as a binding of their tradition, kind of restricting their traditions. But actually there was a useful purpose for that. Using rifles, the last thing you want is your beard getting stuck in the mechanism. But it's an interesting observation.

And it isn't just the case for these people. You see that with the Gurkhas and their favourite weapon, the 'kukri', then becomes their symbol. And it's almost a way of kind of giving them their identity that they can then take forward.

But what is quite interesting is that as the styles of turbans and the way that they look changed, although this image is from the First World War, if you generally look at a Sikh today in Britain, the majority of Sikhs still tie this style of turban, which was influenced by the army. It's sometimes known as a Kenyan style, whereas in fact it's actually a British Indian Army influence.

Going onto turbans, we have a really interesting image that's just being digitised. Sometimes I find it's not just the photographs but it's the notes that accompany these images that are of interest. But the turban, or 'pagri' as it was known in India. has long been a symbol of respect and stature. And the wearing of the turban was generally reserved for priests or kings, certainly people of the higher classes. And perhaps in an attempt to equalise the caste system, all Indian soldiers during the First World, but for Gurkhas and Garhwalis, were required to wear the turban.

Different regiments and indeed races could be identified by the different 'pagris' they wore. British and Muslim men of the British Indian Army wore a' kulla', a small pointed cap, and that was just underneath their turban. You can see just one there, and then one at the back. But this helped hold the 'pagri' in place as they didn't have long hair to do so.

Muslim soldiers could also be identified by their 'pagris' because they kept their ears out. Sikhs on the other hand, much like the turban I am wearing today, it's tied over the ears. And generally Sikhs had larger turbans than the other races, sometimes up to eight metres in length, which can be quite a task to tie, as Jackie Smyth of the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs writes.

Various colours and methods are also used - you can see a real kind of spread - and also various different tying methods. The Dogras tied their turbans - there is a man here of the Dogras - tied theirs by winding the cloth in a twist and others fold it to create their layers. But nonetheless, what we learn is that prince or pauper, Dalit or Dogra could don this status symbol and at least be equal in terms of the uniform that they wore.

We find some clues about how Indian soldiers viewed themselves and their race contained in the letters that they wrote home during the First World War. We find that Rajputs in particular are openly proud of their martial race and their traditions. Sarup Singh, a Hindu Rajput, writes, 'But the Rajput's offspring who does not desire to engage in this war and help his king and country is no true son of a Rajput.'

This is echoed by a rare letter that reveals the female perspective to race in India. Dafadar Payag Singh, a Rajput's wife writes to tell him, 'I will show them what Rajput women are. The enemy shall taste the edge of my talwar' - my sword - 'I am a Rajput woman, my bravery is second to none.'

So, we see some elements of pride and race coming through from these voices. But we can also learn about how some of the men felt towards being amongst other classes or races and carrying out tasks that weren't necessarily associated with them.

Lachhman Singh in 1918 writes: 'It is an easy job, but all classes are mixed up in it. No one pays any attention to class. For us, therefore, it is not pleasant as we have to perform work which is derogatory for Rajputs to do. The business of a Rajput is to fight, and I love fighting.'

In contrast to this, Tara Singh gives us the Sikh perspective: 'Our company was composed of five sepoys (of them three Sikhs and two Muslims), two sweepers and three cooks, but we all ate together at the same table. Moreover, we have often eaten food and drink tea prepared by Muslims.'

This letter speaks to the concept of 'langar' and 'pangat' mentioned before: the concept of breaking caste boundaries and eating together at the same level. And perhaps it was this ethos that reassured the British that the Sikhs could be sent to fight in any region of the world without the hindrance of caste conflict.

The highest award for gallantry in the British Army is the Victoria Cross awarded for most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy. And it wasn't until 1914, December of 1914, that Khudadad Khan of the 129th Baluchis, the first Indian was awarded the Victoria Cross.

But only 11 Indian men were awarded this medal during the First World War. And if we look at the homes of these men plotted onto this map, there is a clear pattern that seems to arise. If we cast our mind back to the initial stack and the initial map I mentioned at the start of the lecture, the three regions that these men normally come from are those very provinces: Punjab, North West Frontier, and Nepal.

We see the same pattern if we overlay the 28 Indian men that were awarded the VC for the Second World War. Almost all these men belong to the north and the key martial races, but for a few.

It can be said that this observation, however, is relative to the higher proportion of men in the north recruited during the outbreak of the war, seeing as we said it was 75 per cent at the start of the lecture. However, the concept of recruiting these men of the north was really... it began to crumble as demand for men in India increased during the war. And really men of all races and regions were recruited in a sense of desperation almost.

This is very interesting; the story for this slide is very interesting. In November last year, the NAM's Head of Collections, Ian Maine, approached me with a query about this medal group. We acquired this at auction. The rare medal group was associated with a man of the Chamar Regiment, and the Chamar is considered to be untouchable and amongst the lowest caste of people in India. This war-raised unit only lasted for a few years.

But actually I genuinely learnt more about this, these people and this regiment from exploring the collection that was donated to the NAM by Field Marshal Sir John Chapple. The collection sits in Sandhurst. But in that collection are three bits of insignia that show, I think it's the water buffalo which is the insignia associated with these people.

But what's interesting about this particular medal group is the attempted erasure of the regimental title. And this is something that accompanied the text when we bought this medal group. But perhaps this was an aim to distance the medal from Dalit association. So when we look on the side of the medal, although the name is still present, the term 'Chamar' has been... or an attempt has been made to erase that.

But the use of outcastes or the Untouchables in the army were usually reserved for tasks that the other classes really didn't want to do. And, therefore, many of the men of the lowest social class in India formed the pioneers or the sappers, suggesting that these men really weren't fit to fight, or at least not as fit as others.

However, the recommendation for the award of the medal paints a slightly different picture:

'Acting on his own initiative, Havildar Bhagat Ram of the Chamar Regiment registered the fire of his mortars onto likely targets. When a company was being counterattacked and the company commander called for mortar support, he was therefore able to quickly and effectively engage the enemy. It was the fire of these mortars which broke up the counterattack and allowed the company to continue the operations unhindered. This NCO displayed initiative and coolness under fire and, in addition to being an example to all around him, won unstinted praise for the work of the mortars from all ranks who were present at the engagement.'

Although this was indeed a rare occurrence, but perhaps it suggests that the 'unmartial' races might have possessed some of the martial qualities the British so desired.

Last year marked 200 years of service to the Crown by the Gurkhas. And they are to date the only remnants of the British Indian Army, and indeed the martial race theory, present in the current British Army with its own brigade. But this... I think it was around last year this time there were calls in the media to raise a separate Sikh brigade. And the Army's response was that some major changes to the law would have to take place first.

But I think I personally feel that with warfare and society so very different to the period of the British Raj, perhaps we don't need separate units for separate races anymore. And instead the armed forces have associations. Currently there are armed forces Hindu, Muslim and Sikh associations set up within the army that mark and highlight cultural aspects of the men, and of their backgrounds. We have Manish, who represents the Armed Forces Hindu Association, with us today.

But as I draw to a conclusion, using this mocked-up system, I really point towards the old system that existed for thousands of years in India, and this is just in my mind how the system had changed as a result of these men being recruited into the British Indian Army.

But it becomes apparent that a complex web of stratification across class and caste and religion and region proved very difficult for the recruiters to navigate around.

There seemed also to be a clear divide of the north and the south. The dark men of the south were aboriginal and bore no resemblance to their recruiters. They ate rice and lived the simple untroubled life. Educated, but not necessarily experienced in war.

The men of the north, however, were said to be of Aryan descent, fairer in skin and seen as distant cousins somewhat. They ate wheat, making them stronger and taller. They were also hardened by their landscape and climate, much like the highlanders of Scotland.

But to impose a new system on top of an existing system required some give. And after trying to study and respect the values of these traditions of these people, it seemed that the best solution was to invent a new class system of sorts.

We have learnt of some of the qualities and attributes that define a race as being 'martial'. Some of these aren't surprising, really. Naturally you look for the biggest, strongest men that possess a fighting spirit and that are the embodiment of bravery and valour. However, the priority of these qualities really seems to be loyalty.

Having learnt the lessons in 1857, perhaps the only way to ensure loyalty was to eliminate the high-class culprits from the process and then instead focus on the more faithful. The other way to ensure loyalty it seemed was to recruit men of lower class and thus lower intellect. These are more likely to be obedient. The literacy rate amongst sepoys was significantly lower than the rest of India. And I know David Omissi made the same statement, but it's not a coincidence.

So, instead of an army of men from primarily the Kshatriya warrior class - and you would think, as I mentioned before, if you are recruiting an army, you would probably take it from the guys that are experienced in fighting - what emerged instead was a peasant army comprising farmers and sweepers and labourers. Not so much a 'martial races' theory, but a 'loyal races' theory, if you will. But regardless, if a man was tall but dim from Punjab, or short but brave from Nepal, these men served with a common principle and that was 'izzat', that was honour.

And so I end on this very fitting poem called 'Hurnam Singh', taken from 'With the Indians in France' by Sir James Willcocks:

'And thus the sons of Hindustan, from Himalaya to Scinde,
From Hindu Kush to Deccan plains,
Rent in a day the ancient chains
Which isolated class from clan,
And joined the battle as one man,
To die for Mata Hind.

Hur Mahadeo! Guru Ji! and Allah's sacred name,
Shri Ganga Jai! from brave Nepal,
Re-echoed loud through wild Garhwal;
From Dogra vale, Afridi clan,
To the proud homes of Rajistan,
Was lit the martial flame.

As pitiless the bullets rained, 'mid angry storm and flood,
Khudadad Khan! immortal name,
Stood by his gun, for India's fame
Was in his hands; the Huns advance,
Recoil; Retire; the soil of France
Is richer with his blood.'

Thank you.


John Barnes
27 April 2016, 12.46pm

As one of the last of the

As one of the last of the Indian Army Cadets trained at Caterham Guards Depot from September 1946 to February 1947 for onward despatch to India, much appreciated reading Jasdeep Singh's lecture transcript on The Martial Races of India. Wd have enjoyed seeing the video too but, regretfully, my computer equipment wouldn't permit. As the world knows, British Government policy changed and August 1947 saw Partition and Independence. Heady times, indeed!

Robert Morrell
27 April 2016, 3.39pm

A very informative and

A very informative and thoughtful lecture from which I learned much.

Erwin Ureel
27 April 2016, 9.15pm

Very interesting article!

Very interesting article!

Stephen Becket
28 April 2016, 7.59am

What excellent timing! I am

What excellent timing! I am writing a research paper on this very subject for my Master of Art (Military History) Degree from the University of New South Wales (Australian Defence Force Academy). In these politically correct times 'racial' subjects can be touchy but I felt it was an important and interesting topic to deal with. I was very pleased to see that this lecture closely follows my own assumptions from extensive study.
Well done and Kindest Regards,
Stephen Becket.

donald fernandes
27 November 2016, 4.41pm

It is indeed very inspiring

It is indeed very inspiring to read the exploits of the men of the martial races and their exceptional courage and bravery shown in the face of savage assaults by the enemy. The list of recipients of bravery awards is shared mostly by the soldiers who belong to the so called martial races. But blatant racial and caste discrimination has also been a feature of the European colonists who ruled Asia and Africa and who to safeguard their own interests, shamelessly practiced selective discrimination to award or promote persons of higher castes. The out castes in particular were primarily fodder for enemy fire(very cheap and plenty), they had no need for any awards, because they were not martial races but the 'filth of this earth'. However, not all Britishers were so brutal in their attitude. A lone British general stands out defiantly when he defines the 'martial races' of the Imperial British Army. He mentions the Sikh, the Rajput, the Pathan, the Gorkhas and includes the Pariah(Tamil outcaste) who 'suckled at the bare breast of his coal black mother' who guard the far flung frontiers of the British Empire. Such kind words are more comforting than any award for valour. The outcaste Pariah is regarded as a misfit, with low intelligence, uncouth and uncultured by almost all Hindus, however they have a few lines of ancient poetry which are informative: WE ARE THE FIRST IN CREATION, WE RIDE THE WHITE ELEPHANT, WE WEAR THE SACRED THREAD, WE ARE THE WINNERS OF LAURELS(in battle).... Ancient tamil literature identifies them as the dreaded 'Eiyanars' a warrior race until they were subdued by the Hindus who promptly relegated them to the level of sub-humans and untouchables. I make this point to show that anyone, in times of dire danger can rise to the occasion and defend his family and friends. He or she need not belong to the martial race.

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