Martial Race: Wikis


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Martial Race was a designation created by Army officials of British India, who observed that the Scottish Highlanders were more fierce in battle than others in Britain, and extended this concept to India, where they classified each ethnic group into one of two categories: 'Martial' and 'Non-Martial'. A 'martial race' was typically considered brave and well-built for fighting.[1] The 'non-martial races' were those whom the British believed to be unfit for battle because of their sedentary lifestyles.[2] "Race" in 19th century terminology corresponds to the contemporary term "ethnic group", and is here not used in the sense of the "great races" of scientific racism corresponding to modern notions of race.



The British faced fierce resistance in some regions while easily conquering some others. The British officials sought 'martial races' accustomed to hunting or agricultural cultures from hilly or mountainous regions with a history of conflict. Still others were excluded due to their 'ease of living' or branded as seditious agitators.[3] The doctrine of 'martial races' postulated that the qualities that make a useful soldier are inherited and that most Indians, with the exception of the specified groups, did not have the requisite genes that would make them warriors.[4]

The British recruited heavily from the 'martial races' for service in the colonial army.[5] Sensing the inequalities and fierce loyalty to one's tribe or group of the diverse native peoples of the subcontinent, the British found opportunities to use it to their own great advantage. These already wide divides were a fertile breeding ground to inculcate pride in one's identity based on 'race'. This served the British in two ways. On the one hand it made sure that there was no repeat of the Indian rebellion of 1857 by ensuring there was no unity among the different subjects of the Raj. On the other hand it encouraged a sense of competition among the different 'races'.

A British general and scholar, Lieutenant-General Sir George MacMunn (1869–1952) noted in his writings "It is only necessary for a feeling to arise that it is impious and disgraceful to serve the British, for the whole of our fabric to tumble like a house of cards without a shot being fired or a sword unsheathed".[6] To this end, it became British policy to recruit only from those tribes whom they classified as members of the 'martial races' and the practice became an integral part of the recruitment manuals for the Army in the British Raj. According to Dr. Jeffrey Greenhut, "The Martial Race theory had an elegant symmetry. Indians who were intelligent and educated were defined as cowards, while those defined as brave were uneducated and backward."[7]

The British regarded the 'martial races' as valiant and strong but also intellectually challenged, lacking the initiative or leadership qualities to command large troops.[8] They were also regarded as politically subservient or docile to authority.[9] For these reasons, the 'martial races' theory did not apply in the case of officer recruitment, which was based on social class and loyalty to the British Raj.[10] One source calls this a "pseudo-ethnological" construction, which was popularised by Frederick Sleigh Roberts, and created serious deficiencies in troop levels during the World Wars, compelling them to recruit from 'non-martial races'.[11] In fact, Winston Churchill was reportedly concerned that the theory was abandoned during the war and wrote to the Commander-in-Chief, India that he must, "rely as much as possible on the martial races".[12] After Indian Independence, the Indian Army abandoned this theory and recruitment took place without discrimination.

Critics of this theory state that the Indian rebellion of 1857 may have played a role in reinforcing the British belief in 'martial races'. During this event some Indian troops (known as 'Sepoys'), particularly in Bengal, mutinied, but the 'loyal' Pathans, Punjabis, Gurkhas,Kumaoni/Kumaunis and Garhwalis did not join the mutiny and fought on the side of the British Army. From then on, this theory was used to the hilt to accelerate recruitment from among these 'races', whilst discouraging enlistment of 'disloyal' Bengalis and high-caste Hindus who had sided with the rebel army during the war.[13] Some authors, such as Heather Streets, argue that the military authorities puffed up the images of the martial soldiers by writing regimental histories, and by extolling the kilted Scots, kukri-wielding Gurkhas and turbaned Sikhs in numerous paintings.[14] The 'Martial Race' theory has also been described as a clever British effort to divide and rule the people of India for their own political ends.[15]

The hillmen Kumaonis, Garhwalis, Dogras and Gorkhas were initially a great impediment to the establishment of the British Empire but once they gave their loyalty to the British they helped them greatly in their administration and were thus conferred the status of martial race. Kumaonis had helped the British in their efforts against the Gurkhas in the Nepal War. When they were observed by the British to be fighting from both sides — the British as well as the Gorkha side — their valour was given recognition by the British and they were included in the British Army. It is interesting to note that the 3rd Gorkha Rifles was known as the Kumaon battalion when it was formed and it included Kumaonis as well as the Garhwalis along with the Gorkhas. The Kumaonis, once accepted as a martial race, were themselves to be recruited in the Hyderabad regiment and displace the native troops, ultimately becoming the Kumaon Regiment after Independence of India.

The biggest loser in the implementation of the Martial Races theory were the units of native infantry and cavalry of the Madras Presidency. After the 1857 uprising, the military hierarchy of British India disbanded the local troops of South Indian origin and replaced them with troops of the so called martial races. This action was a poor reward to the Madras Army which had defeated Tipu Sultan and the Marathas and had remained loyal throughout the mutiny. It is in this manner, that the Punjab Regiment became the most senior regiment of the Indian Army as it originated from the first Madras Native Infantry battalions.

Tribes & groups designated by the British as martial classes

"Rajputs" (anonymous, c.1860)
From the collection of the British Library
French postcard depicting the arrival of 15th Sikh Regiment in France during World War I. The post card reads, "Gentlemen of India marching to chasten the German hooligans"
Field Marshal Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck, Commmander in Chief of India reviewing Tanoli soldiers from Amb State Guard, Darband, 1941.

British declared 'martial races' in India [16][17][18][19][20][21], listed in alphabetical order:

The Marathas were classified as 'non-martial', ignoring the military achievements of the Maratha Empire or the Maratha Regiment's contribution against the Turks during the First World War, when they were recruited by the British Indian Army. However, the Jadhavs, the Dhangars and the Mahars considered by British as martial races belong to the Marathi community. Marāthā has three related usages: within the Marathi speaking region it describes the dominant Maratha caste or to the Maratha and Kunbi castes together; outside Maharashtra or generally it can refer to the entire regional population of Marathi-speaking people; historically, it describes the Maratha Empire founded by Shivaji in the seventeenth century and continued by his successors, which included many castes.[39]

The Mahars were recruited by the Marathi king Shivaji as scouts and fort guards in his army. They were also heavily recruited by the British East India Company, at one part forming one-sixth of the Company's Bombay Army. The Bombay Army especially favoured the Mahar troops for their bravery and loyalty to the Colours, and also because they could be relied upon during the Anglo-Maratha Wars. They achieved many successes, most notably on the 1st of January 1818, when 500 men of the 2nd Battalion 1st Regiment of the Bombay Native Light Infantry along with 250 cavalrymen and 24 cannon defeated 20,000 horsemen and 8,000 footsoldiers of the Maratha Army in what would be called the Battle of Koregaon. This battle was commemorated by an obelisk, known as the Koregaon pillar, which featured on the Mahar Regiment crest until Indian Independence. The Bombay Army also saw action in the Indian Mutiny of 1857, and two regiments (the 21st and 27th) joined the revolt under the British.

The South Indian troops who had proved their valour in the battlefields of central and south India were disbanded after 1857 to make way for more martial races. The recruitment of 'Madrassis' for infantry only took place during the Second World War when large numbers of troops were required to defend British Empire in the form of a newly raised Madras Regiment. The Nairs of Kerala were initially included in the list, however after the Nairs of Travancore rebelled against the British under Velu Thampi Dalawa, they were recruited in lower numbers.

Modern usage

Though seldom used in today's context, it has been alleged that Pakistan Military believed in the concept of martial races and they thus felt that they should easily defeat India in a war, especially prior to the Second Kashmir War[40][41][42] Based on this belief in the martial supremacy, it was popularly hyped that one Pakistani soldier was equal to four to ten Hindus/Indian soldiers,[43][44][45] and thus numerical superiority of the foe could be overcome.[46]

The Pakistan Army was also accused of bias and racism by the Bengalis of East Pakistan who felt humiliated by this dubious theory that was being floated in West Pakistan, that they were not 'martially inclined' compared to the Punjabis and Pashtuns.[47] Pakistani author Hasan-Askari Rizvi notes that the limited recruitment of Bengali personnel in the Pakistan Army was because, the West Pakistanis, "could not overcome the hangover of the martial race theory".[48]

Defence writers in Pakistan have noted that the 1971 defeat was partially attributable to the flawed 'Martial Races Theory' which merely led to, 'wishful thinking' that it was possible to defeat the Indian Army based on the theory alone.[49] Author Stephen P. Cohen notes that "Elevating the 'martial races' theory to the level of an absolute truth had domestic implications for Pakistani politics and contributed to the neglect of other aspects of security."[46] Since then, the 'martial race' theory has rarely, if ever, been used by Pakistan.

Arun Shourie an Indian writer, journalist and politician (former Minister of Communications and Information Technology) refers to the Sikhs as, "having retained a false pride in martial temperament and abilities".[50] The tenth Sikh Guru Guru Gobind Singh proclaimed that one Sikh was equal to sava lakh (one hundred twenty five thousand) and a fauj-a one man army.[51] The Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was reported to have said 'One Sikh could easily reckon with thirty-five Hindus.'[52]

Martial Races in Indian Army

The martial race classification, which was created by the British is still having a huge influence on the recruiting policies of the Indian Army. It is claimed that the martial races are given undeserved priority during the recruitment of soldiers. Huge uproar was resulted when army recruiters in Jammu advertised for fresh recruits during 2001. The advertisement said: "No vacancies for Muslims and tradesmen" (Meaning martial races like Dogra Rajputs can apply, but merchant castes like Muslims and Khatris are not welcome).[53]

The state-wise recruitment figures for Indian army proves that states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttaranchal, Rajastan and Himachal Pradesh are much over represented compared to all other states in the Indian Army.[54]

State Pct of Population Pct of Soldiers Over Representation Martial Races
Uttar Pradesh/Uttaranchal 17.0% 15.58% -8% Jat, Thakur, Pahari Rajput, Gurjar[24]
Maharashtra/Goa 9.5% 7.64% -20% Maratha, Mahar
Bihar 10.7% 5.13% -52% Bhumihar, Rajput
West Bengal 7.8% 3.63% -53% NA
Andhra Pradesh 7.4% 4.08% -45% NA
Tamil Nadu 6.2% 5.09% -18% Thevar
Madhya Pradesh 7.9% 5.13% -35% Thakur
Rajasthan 5.5% 7.04% +28% Rajput, Gurjar[24], Jat
Karnataka 5.1% 2.81% -45% Coorgese, Bunt
Gujarat 4.9% 1.48% -70% Rajput, Gurjar[24]
Orissa 3.6% 1.27% -65% Khandayat
Kerala 3.1% 5.38% +74% Nair
Assam & North-East India 3.8% 4.05% +7% Gorkha, Meitei
Punjab 2.4% 15.30% +538% Jat, Awan , Dogra, Gujar, Janjua , Kamboh, Khattar, Labana, Mahton, Mughal, Pathan, Saini, Sial , Syed, etc. [24]
Haryana 2.2% 7.82% +255% Jat, Rajput, Gujjar[24]
Delhi 1.4% NA NA Gurjar[24], Jat, Rajput
Jammu and Kashmir 1.0% 2.92% +192% Dogra Rajput
Himachal Pradesh 0.6% 4.68% +680% Thakur

The intake of officers to Indian Military Academy also shows a clear cut bias towards the North-Western states. A whooping 12.32% of the officers were from Punjab, while a further 10.90% were from Haryana and Chandigarh. Other over represented states included Delhi (9.21%), Himachal Pradesh (3.73%), Jammu and Kashmir (2.97%), Uttar Pradesh-Uttaranchal (23.24%) & Rajastan (4.33%). Under represented states includes Andhra Pradesh (3.78%), Assam (0.55%), Bihar (5.34%), West Bengal (2.47%), Gujarat (0.52%), Kerala (5.26%), Karnataka (3.02%), Maharashtra (4.22%), Madhya Pradesh (3.89%), Orissa (1.32%) & Tamil Nadu (2.30%).[55]

See also


  1. ^ Rand, Gavin (March 2006). "Martial Races and Imperial Subjects: Violence and Governance in Colonial India 1857–1914". European Review of History (Routledge) 13 (1): 1–20. doi:10.1080/13507480600586726. 
  2. ^ Martial Races: The military, race and masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857-1914 By Heather Streets.
  3. ^ Ethnic Group Recruitment in the Indian Army; by Dr. Omar Khalidi.
  4. ^ Greenhut, Jeffrey (1984) Sahib and Sepoy: an Inquiry into the Relationship between the British Officers and Native Soldiers of the British Indian Army. (In: Military Affairs, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Jan., 1984), p. 15.
  5. ^ Rose, H. A. Glossary of the tribes and castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province
  6. ^ MacMunn, G. F. (1911)The Armies of India; painted by Major A. C. Lovett. London: Adam & Charles Black.
  7. ^ Greenhut, Jeffrey (1983) The Imperial Reserve: the Indian Corps on the Western Front, 1914-15. In: The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, October 1983.
  8. ^ Levine, Philippa ( -?- ) Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire; p. 284.
  9. ^ Ethnic Group Recruitment in the Indian Army: The Contrasting Cases of Sikhs, Muslims, Gurkhas and Others by Omar Khalidi.
  10. ^ Ethnic group recruitment in the Indian army: The contrasting cases of Sikhs, Muslims, Gurkhas and others by Omar Khalidi.
  11. ^ Country Data - Based on the Country Studies Series by Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress.
  12. ^ Bose, Mihir. The Magic of Indian Cricket: Cricket and Society in India; p. 25.
  13. ^ Country Studies: Pakistan - Library of Congress.
  14. ^ Book review of Martial Races: The military, race and masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857-1914 By Heather Streets in The Telegraph.
  15. ^ Shultz, Richard; Dew, Andrea ( -?- ). Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat; p. 47).
  16. ^ Each of the following groups are mentioned in the Annual Class Return, 1925, pp 96-99.
  17. ^ See Refs also: Restricted Peasants and the Restraint of Imperial Power, Indian Army and the Making of Punjab, 2003, R. K. Majumdar.
  18. ^ See: Punjab Alienation Land Act XIII of 1900 (Lahore Amrit Electric Press, 1924), Appendix A, Notified Tribes, pp 146-149, Nihal Chand Anand.
  19. ^ A Handbook of fighting Races of India, 1889, p 81/82, 179/181, P. D. Bonarjee.
  20. ^ See also: The Martial Races of India, George Fletcher (Sir), MacMunn, 1933.
  21. ^ Cf also: Wealth and Welfare, p 214, Calvert.
  22. ^ Book -Everyday life in South Asia By Diane P. Mines, Sarah Lamb
  23. ^
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p The Indian Army and the Making of Punjab, By Rajit K. Mazumder, pp 99, 105
  25. ^ Ethnic Group Recruitment in the Indian Army by Dr. Omar Khalidi.
  26. ^ Surridge, Keith (2007). "Martial Races: the Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857-1914 (review)". Journal of Victorian Culture (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press) 12 (1): 146-150. ISSN 1355-5502. 
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ Ethnic Group Recruitment in the Indian Army by Dr. Omar Khalid.
  30. ^ Punjab District Gazetteers, Volume XIV A. , Jullundur District with Maps, pp 269, 1904 , Lahore, Printed at the "Civil and Military Gazette" Press
  31. ^ American Asiatic Association (1942). Asia: Asian Quarterly of Culture and Synthesis. Asia Magazine. p. 22. 
  32. ^ Paul Hartmann, B. R. Patil, Anita Dighe (1989). The Mass Media and Village Life: An Indian Study. Sage Publications. p. 224. 
  33. ^ Kumara Padmanabha Sivasankara Menon (1965). Many Worlds: An Autobiography. Oxford University Press. p. 2. 
  34. ^ Hugh Gantzer (April 1975-March 1976). Imprint. Business Press. p. 80. 
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ The People of India: A Series of Photographic Illustrations, with Descriptive Letterpress, of the Races and Tribes of Hindustan, Originally Prepared Under the Authority of the Government of India, and Reproduced by Order of the Secretary of State for India in Council By John Forbes Watson, John William Kaye, Meadows Taylor, Great Britain. India Office Published by India museum, 1872 Item notes: v. 5
  38. ^ Bonarjee, P. D. (1899), A Handbook of Fighting Races of India, Calcutta: Thacker Spink (fasc. 1975, New Delhi: Asian Publication Services)
  39. ^ "Maratha". Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2009. 
  40. ^ Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat Richard H. Shultz, Andrea Dew: "The Martial Races Theory had firm adherents in Pakistan and this factor played a major role in the under-estimation of the Indian Army by Pakistani soldiers as well as civilian decision makers in 1965."
  41. ^ An Analysis The Sepoy Rebellion of 1857-59 by AH Amin "The army officers of that period were convinced that they were a 'martial race' and the Hindus of Indian Army were cowards. Some say this was disproved in 1965 when despite having more sophisticated equipment, numerical preponderance in tanks and the element of surprise the Pakistan Armoured Division miserably failed at Khem Karan."
  42. ^ United States Library of Congress Country Studies "Most Pakistanis, schooled in the belief of their own martial prowess, refused to accept the possibility of their country's military defeat by 'Hindu India'."
  43. ^ Indo-Pakistan War of 1965.
  44. ^ End-game? By Ardeshir Cowasjee - 18 July 1999, Dawn (newspaper).
  45. ^ India by Stanley Wolpert. Published: University of California Press, 1990. "India's army... quickly dispelled the popular Pakistani myth that one Muslim soldier was 'worth ten Hindus.'"
  46. ^ a b The Idea of Pakistan By Stephen P. Cohen Published by Brookings Institution Press, 2004 ISBN 0815715021 pp 103-104.
  47. ^ Library of Congress studies.
  48. ^ Military, State and Society in Pakistan by Hasan-Askari Rizvi, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 0-312-23193-8 (Pg 128).
  49. ^ Pakistan's Defense Journal.
  50. ^ Arun Shourie, Lessons from the Punjab, in The Punjab Story, edited by Amarjit Kaur et al., Roli Books International, 1984, pages 178-179.
  51. ^ Ranbir S. Sandhu, Sant Janail Singh Bhindranwale - Life, Mission, and Martyrdom, Sikh Education and Religious Foundation, Dublin, Ohio, 1997, page 10.
  52. ^ Kuldip Nayar and Khushwant Singh, Tragedy of Punjab, Vision Books, New Delhi, 1984, page 27.
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^

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