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Ethnicity, Religion, Military Performance And Political Reliability — British Recruitment Policy An


Apr 3, 2005

Ethnicity, Religion, Military Performance and Political Reliability — British Recruitment Policy and The Indian Army — 1757-1947

Maj (Retd) AGHA HUMAYUN AMIN from WASHINGTON DC writes about British recruitment policy in the sub-continent.

This article is an attempt to evaluate British recruitment policy in relation to "Ethnicity" , "Religion" , "Military Performance" and "Political Reliability". "Recruitment Policy" remains a hotly debated subject and one which has been subjectively abused to prove or disprove essentially biased and ethnically or religiously motivated pre-conceived notions.


There was no recruitment policy once the English East India’s three presidency armies were created in the period 1740-57. The Sepoy Army or the Native Units as the Britishers called them were the brainchild of Lord Clive as far as the English were concerned. Clive started the recruitment of Indians because they were "readily available" in vast numbers , "were cheap in terms of pay and allowances" , "easier to manage than European troops" and "ready to fight for anyone who was a good paymaster". Thus the Bengal Army was not organised on ethnic or religious lines down till section level . As the English Company conquered India political considerations became more and more important and by 1849 political considerations were far more important than the commercial considerations which were paramount in 1757-70 when the sepoy army was created. This was because the English Company was increasingly perceived as the de facto ruler of India during the period 1757 to 1849. It started suddenly with Clive’s victory over the Nawab of Bengal in 1757 and successively became more and more obvious through military triumphs against Nawab of Oudh (1764), Mysore (1799), Marathas (1803), Sindh (1843) and finally the Punjab and the Trans Indus Frontier in 1849.

The First Afghan War of 1839-41 was the first crucial event as far as the British recruitment policy was concerned. Cases if " Mutiny " and "Insubordination" suddenly made the Britishers realise that the "Hindustani Sepoy" the backbone of its main army the "Bengal Army" could no longer be taken for granted!

It was a classic story of successive change in perceptions! In 1757 the Indian needed the English Company more than the English Company needed it! The English East India Company then was the best paymaster in India! At this time ironically the Native was often viewed as an antidote to Europeans1 who were " more difficult to manage" and had many times mutinied against their European employers! At this time the Britishers were not particular about “ethnicity” or "religion" although the Hindustani Rajput or Hindustani Pathan Muslim or Rohilla Muslim was preferred over the Madras troops because of height and bearing! Later British recruitment policy went through many major changes and this process continued right till 1947.

British recruitment policy was based on many considerations and every policy decision was taken with a certain rationale in mind. Unfortunately many myths and misconceptions were accepted as the ultimate truth in India and these in turn gave birth to essentially fallacious and erroneous perceptions.

We will examine the various myths, misconceptions and sweping judgements connected with British recruitment policy in the succeeding paragraphs and present the reader with certain facts which will disprove many misconceptions pertaining to British recruitment policy in India.

Being from a service family which had deep connection with the pre-1857 Bengal Cavalry and which switched over to the "Punjab Police Service" in and immediately after 1857 once many of the finest Bengal Cavalry units simply disappeared from history, British recruitment policy always intrigued me. I heard countless discussions about it from hundreds of Ranghar veterans of WW One and Two.

These veterans narrated many things which at that time appeared very strange in today’s Pakistan which has been brainwashed by murder of history undertaken by self-styled guardians of ideology!

Most painful of all were the memories of the “Red Year” i.e 1857 as narrated by my grandfathers elder brother as he had heard them from many ancient Ranghars whose villages were burnt by the Punjab Frontier Force in 1857! His account of how this scribe’s great grandfather became a Punjab Police in Dinga and Chauntra all the way from Delhi territory! My maternal grandfather’s descriptions of why the Shinwari Pathans of Sikandara Rao (an ancient cavalry village of Hindustani Pathans which produced one Pakistani armoured corps senior ranking officer too) stopped enlisting in the post-1857 Bengal Cavalry was particularly painful! Risaldar Ashiq Ali’s memories as narrated to him by his grandfather as to how the famous cavalry village of Jamalpur in Hissar district was burnt in 1857 by 15 Lancers and some other Punjab Cavalry units was again traumatic. Ironically many cavalrymen of Jamalpur had been the original cadre employed by the British to raise Punjab Cavalry units and the Guides in the pre-1857 era.This, however, may be the subject of a future article! I may add that 15 Lancers in which I served in 1988 did partially atone for the sin of burning the Ranghar Muslim village of Jamalpur when its Pathan Squadrons (Punjabi Squadrons remaining loyal) rebelled against the British in Mesopotamia in WW One! The quest to write on this subject began in 1976 and it took 24 years to gather data, which even at this stage may be not wholly correct.

The British recruitment policy went through six major changes/periods from 1757 to 1947 :--

a. 1757-1849-No Precise Policy and Sucessively greater Hindustani Hindu Domination

b. 1849-1858-Introduction of Punjabi Sikhs Muslims and Pathans

c. 1858-1885-Continued Hindustani Hindu Domination with a higher Punjabi presence

d. 1885-1914-Punjabisation of the Army with bias in favour of Sikhs, Virtual Punjabisation of Madras Army with near elimination of Madrasis, Punjabisation/Reduction of Bombay Army and reduction of Hindustani Hindus into a minority

e. 1914-1939-Greater Punjabisation with bias in favour of Punjabi Muslims and relative reduction of Sikhs

f. 1939-1947-Broad based policy with Punjab in lead but great diversification all over India



The English East India Company raised three regionally and ethnically distinct forces in India during the period 1740-1757. The initial object in raising these forces was purely defensive but from 1757 onwards it became increasingly offensive. These three forces were the Madras Bengal and Bombay Armies raised to defend the company’s interests in its Madras Bengal and Bombay Presidencies. All three had their own C in C and were under the Governor of the respective presidency. Initially the Bengal Establishment was under Madras Presidency 2, however, later on the C in C of Bengal Army was placed higher in precedence/command and functioned also as the overall British C in C in India.

The following table illustrates the various changes in the size (Native Troops only) of the three presidency armies:--3

Chart No. 1

ARMY 1796 1805 1857 REMARKS

BENGAL ARMY 24,000 57,000 118,663

MADRAS ARMY 24,000 53,000 49,737

BOMBAY ARMY 9,000 20,000 31,601

Initially the Madras Army was the largest but after 1757 the Bengal Army grew rapidly while from 1799 onwards the Madras Army’s growth stopped while the Bombay Army’s importance was reduced after the Third Maratha War of 1817. The Bengal Army as the table illustrates had already become the largest Army by 1805 and by 1857 was larger than the combined strength of the Madras and Bombay Armies. The reason for this was the fact that the presidency armies were regulated by the nature of threat and the Madras and Bombay Armies expansion was stopped after the principal Indian states like Mysore or Maratha Confederacy were completely eliminated in 1799 and 1817 respectively. On the other hand the Bengal Army steadily expanded since the major external threats to the Company i.e Sikh Punjab, the Trans Indus Frontier Tribes and the Russian Empire were opposite the Bengal Army area.

Recruitment was done regionally initially and there were no class or ethnic quotas in the presidency armies although the Madras Army was organised in a somewhat class pattern. Thus Syed Ahmad Khan’s observations about 1857 Rebellion that “Government certainly did put the two antagonistic races into the same regiment, but constant intercourse had done its work and the two races in a regiment had almost become one. It is but natural and to be expected, that a feeling of friendship and brotherhood must spring up between the men of a regiment, constantly brought together as they are. They consider themselves as one body and thus it was that the difference which exists between Hindoos and Mahomeddans had, in these regiments, been almost entirely smoothed away.” 4

The Bengal Army consisted of Hindustanis from the Indo-Gangetic Plain and was predominantly Hindu as far as “Infantry” the largest arm and predominantly “Muslim” as far as “Cavalry” the much smaller arm was concerned. This was because the Hindustani Pathan and Ranghar/Kaimkhani Muslims looked down upon infantry as an arm unfit for their social status. This prejudice as we shall subsequently discuss, remained with the Hindustani/Ranghar/Kaimkhani Muslims right till 1947.

The Madras Army was again a Hindu dominated Army but surprisingly had a far higher proportion of Muslims in infantry than the Bengal Army!5 This may have been because of economic reasons, since the social status of the Muslims in the Madras Presidency was not as high as in the Bengal Presidency area. The reader may note that the Madras Army Cavalry like the Bengal Army Cavalry was again a Muslim dominated arm. The Madras Cavalry had a high proportion of Hindustani Pathans and Ranghars 6 and this is the reason why the only major disaffection in Madras Army in 1857 took place in the Madras Cavalry.7

The Bombay Army unlike the Bengal and Madras Armies was a Hindu dominated army in both cavalry and infantry.8 However, the Bombay Army did have some purely Muslim infantry units (Baloch Category) from 1844-45.9 The Bombay Army, although Maratha dominated had a sizeable representation of Hindustani Hindus in its infantry10 and this is the reason why some Bombay Infantry units rebelled against the British in 1857.



The year 1846 was an important year in terms of British recruitment policy for two reasons. First was the British decision to recruit Sikhs (Irregular Units) in their Bengal Army. The second was being the decision to recruit Gurkhas who fought brilliantly against the Sikhs at Sobraon.11

Till 1846 the British did not follow any specific recruitment policy. However, a succession of mutinies, mostly in the Hindustani dominated Bengal Army, over pays and allowances, led to some changes in perceptions and Sir Henry Hardinge was the first British Viceroy who okayed a policy to induct Punjabis (Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus) and Pathans (in 1846 roughly bracketed by the British in the Punjabi category) in the army. This was a policy decision based on the fact that the new British frontier now was the Sutlej and Beas River and it was necessary to have troops who knew the area and were good soldiers.

This happened in 1846 once vide GGO dated 30 July 184612 two predominantly Sikh “Irregular Infantry” units i.e. “The Regiment of Ferozepur” and “The Regiment of Ludhiana” from the Jat Sikhs of Sutlej river and surrounding country were raised. In addition later in December the same year in accordance with G.G.O Foreign Department No. 2457 dated 14 December 1846 it was decided to raise a "Frontier Brigade" consisting of one light field battery of artillery and four regiments of infantry and also “Corps of Guides” for general service.13

The Corps of Guides was also not Pathan or Punjabi Muslim in majority as many in Pakistan may think but contained Sikhs, Pathans and Punjabi Muslims.

Hardinge went further and okayed a brilliant political decision to rehabilitate the Khalsa Sikh Army. In accordance with G.G.O of 14 December 1846 1st Sikh Infantry was raised at Hoshiarpur, 2nd Sikh Infantry at Kangra, 3rd Sikh Infantry at Ferozepur and 4th Sikh Infantry at Ludhiana."The Corps of Guides" was raised at Mardan. Contrary to common myth which led many like Stanley Wolpert to conclude later that the British were aided by Delhi at Sikhs, the class composition of the newly raised Sikh infantry units was "never wholly Sikh, nor even did the Sikhs preponderate in all units even at the start14 the reason for calling them Sikh Infantry was the fact, that they were raised mainly though not wholly from the troops of the Sikh Army disbanded as per the peace terms of the First Sikh War. Thus in 1862, class composition of the 1st Sikh Infantry was: Sikhs—4 Companies,1 and — Company—Punjabi Muslims,1 Company—Trans Indus Pathan Muslims,1 Company—Hindustani Muslims and — Company—Dogra Hindus. The 2nd Sikh was mostly Dogra Hindu with some Pathans, the 3rd Sikh had 5 Companies—Sikhs, 2 Companies—Pathans, 2 Companies—Punjabi Muslims and 1 Company—Dogras.15

The British had been deeply impressed by the "Military Effectiveness" of the Punjabi Sikhs in the First and Second Sikh Wars. Dalhousie the young British viceroy was a great pragmatist. He decided to rehabilitate the Sikhs after the final conquest of Punjab in 1849. Dalhousie also ordered the raising of an irregular force under Punjab Board of Administration known as the Punjab Irregular Force, or P.I.F or simply from 1851 as the P.I.F.F.E.R abbreviated later as FF.16 Thus a large number of ex-Sikh Khalsa Army units (Sikh majority but with Punjabi Muslim presence) were simply re-raised with the designation "Frontier Force" in 1849.17 The readers may note that the task of the units with “Sikh” designation was general duties in Punjab and Frontier while the specific task of the “Frontier Force” was the protection of the frontier between Kashmor and Malakand.

The Britishers had realised as the Cambridge History states around 1849-50 that “in each regiment men of different races should be enlisted, so as to lessen the risk of mutinous combination”18. In 1849-50 following the annexation of Punjab the Bengal Army was rocked by a series of mutinies, since the allowances for serving in foreign territory, Punjab no longer being foreign territory were abolished. A general rebellion was avoided through careful and resolute handling by Sir Charles Napier the C in C Bengal Army. Sir Charles Napier the C in C India and the C in C Bengal Army saw a Hindustani Mutiny very clearly and warned his countrymen in 1850 that “a mutiny with the sepoys is the most formidable danger menacing our Indian Empire”.19 Dalhousie as a matter of fact thought that the ratio of British troops vis-a-vis Indian troops should be higher and unsuccessfully requested the British government to increase this ratio.20

Lord Dalhousie, however, was the first Viceroy who embarked on a deliberate policy to include Punjabis in the army and to change the policy of total reliance on the Hindustanis as far the company’s major army i.e. Bengal Army was concerned. Some readers peculiarly the biased readers in Pakistan fed on official propaganda and a vulgarised local version of “The Pakistani Martial Races Theory" may think that Dalhousie hated the Hindustanis and loved the Punjabis! Dalhousie did not love the Punjabis but he certainly hated relying on the Hindustanis alone!

This was not as simple as this! Dalhousie the great anti-Feudal was a great pragmatist! Dalhousie simply believed in local participation and ensuring that no trained armed men was unemployed! Wherever he went he followed a policy of taking everyone in the same boat. A man of great genius and vision Dalhousie strongly urged the British Government to have Indian participation in the East India Company's Indian Government! This was with prophetic foresight rather than benefit if hindsight, long before Syed Ahmad Khan came to a similar conclusion in his famous “Causes of the Indian Mutiny”! Once Oudh was annexed in 1856 Dalhousie ordered raising of a totally Hindustani force consisting of ex-soldiers of Oudh Army known as “Oudh Irregular Force”. 21 The force again under command the civilian administration was larger than the "Punjab Force and consisted of some fifteen units.

The readers may note that the Frontier Force and Sikh Infantry units were not regular army units but an irregular force under the Punjab Civilian Board of Administration. In this regard Dalhousie’s first step towards reduction of Hindustani domination was an order that laid down that each Bengal Infantry unit must have 100 Sikhs. The aim of this step was twofold i.e. to rehabilitate the Sikhs a fallen but brave adversary and to have an alternate to the Hindustani troops, who were becoming more and more difficult to manage.

The Hindustanis resented inclusion of 100 Sikhs in each Bengal Infantry unit. The Hindustani troops complained that the Sikhs were unclean and smelled "horribly" because of their custom of dressing their long hair with curd!22 The underlying and real grievance, off course, was the fact that the East India Company had discovered an alternative source of recruitment.

It was indiscipline and political considerations and not any martial fervour as many in Pakistan or Indian Punjab may like to believe that were the cardinal factors in change of British policy. Dalhousie was the first man in authority who saw things as they were and initiated a policy! Before Dalhousie we may even state that there was no tangible recruitment policy based on long-term political considerations.

Dalhousie observed that "The discipline of the army, from top to bottiom, officers and men alike is scandalous".23 The pre-1857 Bengal Army in words of John Lawrence was "one great brotherhood, in which all members felt and acted in union".24 The readers may note that the Punjabis and Pathans became so called "Martial Races" only when this great brotherhood revolted against the English Company in 1857!

Dalhousie was very clear about the Hindustani troops potential and urged in 1856 that the number of Punjabis and Gurkhas in the Bengal Army should be increased vis a vis the Hindustanis.Dalhousie thus stated " We must be strong,not against the enemy only , but against our population, and even against possible contingencies connected with our native army”.25

The Sepoy Rebellion of 1857-58 was a traumatic and bloody event in Indian history. It confirmed Dalhousie’s misgivings about the Hindustani soldier and acted as the propellant that produced a major change in British recruitment policy. Ironically from the Indo Pak point of view , by a twist of historical circumstances , Punjab was a thoroughly disunited and politically confused province in 1857.The Punjabi Muslims the majority group hated the Punjabi Sikhs, were grateful to the British Company for having liberated them and freed many of their places of worship which were used as stables and gunpowder magazines by the Sikhs !

The Sikhs again hated the Punjabi Muslims and also the Hindustani sepoys who had acted as traitors( in Sikh eyes) in fighting for the English Company against the Sikhs in the two Sikh wars. The Hindustanis were three fourth Hindu and linguistically and culturally different , so there was little that they had in common with the Punjabi Muslims . The Hindustani Hindus who followed the Hindustani (Ranghar and Pathan Muslims) in the rebellion were united, since they had served in the same regiments for 100 years!

There were about 36,000 Hindustanis ,10,000 British soldiers and 13,000 Punjabi (Sikh , Punjabi Muslim and Pathan) Irregulars from the Sikh and Punjab Force units. 26 The British came to know about the Meerut Rebellion and loss of Delhi,thanks to the telegraph before the Hindustani Sepoys.They placed guards on all river ferries and successfully disarmed most of the Bengal Army units successfully. Some units however managed to reach Delhi . However no unit from East or North of Beas successfully reached Delhi .The Punjabi troops who had nothing in common with the Hindustanis collaborated with the British troops. This may sound strange but , how on earth the Punjabis could have rebelled in nine years once the Hindustanis took 100 years in doing so ! With Whole of Bengal Army in rebellion and all territory between Delhi and Allahabad out of British control , the British were forced to recruit only from Punjab (Trans Indus Frontier then being part of Punjab).

The Punjab Irregular force although a relatively small entity played an important part in 1857 in four respects.Firstly since it was ethnically different from Hindustani troops,both Muslim and Hindu and stayed loyal to the East India Company, assisting them in disarming various native infantry units of the Bengal army. Secondly although numerically relatively small,it gave the British valuable manpower which they badly required in the period June-September 1857 to maintain the Delhi Field Force engaged in the crucially important siege of Delhi.If this force had not existed there is no doubt that the siege of Delhi could not have been carried on and the city may not have been captured as early as September 1857,theeby greatly increasing the chances of success of the First and the only Indian War of Independence. Thirdly had the English Company failed to disarm the native units in Punjab or to hold the province, there was all the likelihood that Afghanistan would have attacked India, and all the frontier tribes would have joined the Afghan invading army, making the British task of India much more difficult. Fourthly and perhaps most important, the successful experiment of having such a force in 1857 enabled the East India Company to raise more than 27 regiments and levies which proved invaluable in holding the rear areas of Punjab and in protecting the lines of communication while the British were engaged in siege of Delhi.

The brilliant British policy of chivalrously treated the Sikhs and the perception of Punjabi and Pathan Muslims who viewed the English Company as liberators from Sikh rule played a crucial role in ensuring Punjab loyalty, which saved the British position in northern India, which was most precarious by all definitions. The Punjabis perhaps were prisoners of the flow or pressure of history.

The most decisive aspect of the whole affair was the immense resolution and decisiveness with which the British disarmed or handled more than 41 Hindustani cavalry and infantry regiments stationed in Punjab area, with just about 13 British regiments assisted by the twelve odd units of the Punjab Irregular Force. This loyalty was the foundation of the subsequent change in British recruitment policy in India in the period 1858-1914. Later we shall see that “Loyalty” was rephrased as “Martial Races” in order to give the term greater respectability and later on some new myths were created.

Around 60,000 men were recruited from the Punjab in 1857. Half of these were Muslim, one third Sikhs and about one third Punjabi Hindu. Some 35,000 participated in the battles of 1857 rebellion. John Lawrence the Chief Commissioner of Punjab in his letter dated 25 May 1858 appended in the Punjab Mutiny reports addressed to Mr. Edmonstone Secretary to the Government of India stated the composition of the Irregular forces of Punjab as following:-27

Chart No. 2

Ethnic/Religious Group Numbers Recruited-1857-58






The British policy in recruiting Punjabis, as visualised and executed by John Lawrence was brilliant and highly effective.

Punjabis were employed not only because of military reasons, but to keep them occupied and to give them a vested interest in the continuance of the British rule. Most of the units raised in Punjab in 1857-58 were thus never employed in the actual fighting. They performed internal security and policing roles. The British aim in recruiting the Punjabis was twofold i.e keep them occupied, use them to protect the lines of communication so that bulk of the British troops were freed for the actual fighting at Delhi. Only a few more reliable Punjab Force units and some units with the “Sikh” designation were employed at Delhi.

Later some more Punjab units were brought but these were brought only after the main battles at Delhi and Lucknow Thorburn well summed up Lawrences brilliant policy when he said “He chose his recruits wisely, so balancing antagonistic nationalities and creeds as to give dangerous preponderance to none”.28

Following 1857 when the Bengal Army was reorganised. Just 11 regular infantry units and 8 Irregular cavalry regiments of the predominantly Hindustani Bengal Army survived the rebellion. Whereas more than 11 cavalry regiments and more than 19 irregular infantry regiments had been raised in Punjab during the rebellion bringing the number of Punjabi units to more than 49 once the Punjab Irregular Force was added.

Many British officers wanted to have no Hindustanis in the post 1857 reorganised Bengal Army. The British character was, however, too subtle and far sighted to take such a short sighted step. It is one very rational British trait to act moderately cooly and rationally even in the aftermath of traumatic upheavals, and the British were too brilliant to show that they held one community in distrust while favouring another! Thus contrary to the commonly held myth the Punjabisation of the British Indian Army started not immediately after 1857 but after 1885 when Roberts became the Bengal Army C in C.

The post-1857 British policy was again brilliant from the political point of view. The Hindustanis despite their principal role in the rebellion were retained in the army as the largest single group! The Punjabi and Pathan Muslims despite the fact that they were the largest single group that responded to British recruitment drive were reduced vis a vis the Sikhs.

Each Bengal Army unit was reorganised on class company or clas troop lines. The British policy at this stage was neither anti-Hindustani or pro-Punjabi as many later authors incorrectly concluded. It was well summed up by Governor General Lord Canning in the following manner. "Lord Canning’s views about the policy of "Divide and Rule" expressed in 1857 are thought provoking; Canning thus said in a letter dated 9 October 1857: "the men who fought against us at Delhi were of both creeds; probably in equal numbers. If we destroy or desecrate Mussulman Mosques or Brahman Temples we do exactly what is wanting to band the two antagonist races against ourselves …as we must rule 150 million of people by a handful (more or less small) number of Englishmen, let us do it in the manner best calculated to leave them divided (as in religion and national feeling as they already are) and to inspire them with the greatest possible awe of our power.29 Canning went further and very subtly defined certain guidelines regarding employment of various classes after 1857:- "All exclusion of Mahomeddan, Rajpoots or even of Brahmans should be a matter of management rather than of rule; and indeed that it will be right to take an opportunity, though not just yet, to show by an exception here and there, that the rule does not exist. It is desirable that no class should feel that it had henceforward nothing to expect from the government”.30

Chart No. 3

Ethnic/Religious Composition of Bengal Army Unit/S-Infantry Only-1861 Number Of Battalions

Predominantly Hindustani Units of the Old Pre-1857 Bengal Army 11

Irregular Non-Punjabi Infantry Units of the Old Pre-1857 Bengal Army 2

New units created from loyal remnants of Pre-1857 Hindustani Infantry units of the Bengal Army 2

Irregular Punjabi Sikh units of the Pre-1857 Bengal Army 2

Unit created from loyal remnants of Old Pre-1857 Gwalior Contingent (Hindustanis) 1

Irregular Units of Non-Hindustani Non-Punjabi Non-Pathan Origin and recruited from Calcutta/Sylhet/Assam etc and part of the old Pre-1857 Bengal Army
Punjabi/Pathan units of Punjabi and Trans Frontier Origin Raised in 1857 14

Low Caste Hindustani Hindu units raised in Northwest Provinces in 1857-58 8

Grand Total Infantry Units-Reconstituted Bengal Army of 1861 44 battalions

Chart No. 4

Ethnic/Religious Composition of Bengal Army Cavalry Units in 1861 Cavalry units


Hindustani/Ranghar Irregular Cavalry Regiments of the Old Bengal Army which stayed Loyal/Partially Loyal and survived the Rebellion
Non-Hindustani Irregular Cavalry units which were raised in Punjab and Trans Frontier mostly and were retained after 1858

The post-1857 Bengal Army thus had the following communal/ethnic composition:-- 31

In 1864 when Bengal Army was reconstituted in the light of Adjutant General’s Circular No.117 N, Dated 9th September 1864, nothing proved that there was any anti- Hindustani or any anti-Hindustani Muslim or any anti-Hindustani Hindu bias as far as recruitment to the Bengal Army was concerned. Among the 19 cavalry units whose class composition was described in these orders, no specific figure is given for recruitment in five regiments; except that they should gradually have a mixed composition of Muslims Dogras Hindu Jats Rajputs Brahmans and Marathas in equal number mixed together; but specific figures are given for the 14 remaining cavalry units and these are as following :- 32

The reader may note that the ethnic/communal composition of the Bombay and Madras Armies at this stage was as following33:--


1858-1885-Continued Hindustani Hindu Domination with a higher Punjabi presence

Contray to common myths accepted as the Gospel truth by many the "Punjabisation" of the Indian Army did not start really immediately after 1858. It was a slower and far more subtler process than commonly understood. The following table showing the class composition of the Bengal Army, the largest presidency army proves that till 1885 the regular British Indian troops were Hindustani by majority as far as individual regions were concerned and Hindustani Hindu by majority as far as the largest religious groups were concerned. The army was a balanced entity in which Hindustanis were balanced against Punjabis but without any major uneven bias:---34

Chart No. 5

Hindustani Muslims (Including Ranghars)
Punjabi Muslims Pathan Muslim Total Muslim Troops Sikh Troops Hindu Troops Total Non-Muslim Troops

11 troops 17 troops 39 troops 15 troops 30 troops 45 troops

Chart No. 6

Madras Army Bombay Army
Total Fighting Arm Strength
45,341 26,894
17,880 2,630
Muslim % Age
39.43 % 5.8 %
Total Infantry
45,725 (52 Regts) 25,433 (29 Regts)
Muslim Infantry
15,856 2,159
Total Cavalry
2,616 1,461

(7 Regts) (3 Regts)
Muslim Cavalry
2,024 471

Nothing above shows any Muslim majority or anything that proves that the British thought that the non-Muslims were worse than Muslims as cavalry soldiers. In infantry the table was less specific but nothing pointed towards any Muslim majority in the infantry also. In 1883 G.G.O dated 20 January 1883 dismissed all remaining vagueness about who was in majority in cavalry or infantry 35:--

Those who are obsessed with the murder of history may now think keeping in line with Shaukat Riza that the Muslims were in majority in the Punjab Frontier Force! Even this is incorrect! As per the G.G.O dated 2nd January 1889 following was the class composition of the Punjab Irregular Frontier Force37 :---



Between 1858 and 1914 the major war which the Bengal Bombay and Madras Armies fought were the Second Afghan War (1878-80) and the Third Burmese War (1885-89). Both of these wars were by no definition major wars in terms of breadth or scope of operations, but major in terms of number of troops employed. The Second Afghan War was a much more better organised affair than the First Afghan War. Roberts the British commander holding Kabul understood the Afghan character much better than Elphinstone and kept the tempers in Kabul within control by resorting to a large number of summary executions which kept the population within bounds of decent behaviour! The most significant British disaster in the war was the disastrous though strategically insignificant Battle of Maiwand which the British lost with heavy casualties. This battle was fought by one British infantry regiment and some Native regiments of the Bombay Army.

Later on it became fashionable to theorise that this battle was lost because the Bombay Army troops being Hindu and thus Non-Punjabi Muslim or Sikh or Pathan were less martial! Subsequent research proved that most of these troops were not from Bombay Province but from Punjab Frontier and other areas outside Bombay.

The most active engagement of the British Indian Army was in Expeditions against the Frontier Tribes, which again was a minor affair as far as casualties were concerned.

It is interesting to note that the British suffered maximum casualties during all expeditions from 1849 to 1881; not against any Pathan or Baloch Tribe but against the Hindustani Fanatics; as the followers of Sayyid Ahmad Shahid of Rai Bareilly were called by the British.

Thus the British suffered 908 casualties in the 1863 Ambeyla expedition.These were 667 more than the second highest casualties which the British suffered against the Mahsud Waziris in 1860! 38

Chart No. 7

Total Coys Brahman Rajput Hindu Other Hindu Punjabi Dogra Gurkha Punjabi Muslim Hindustani Muslim Pathan Muslim
9.04 %



Total %age
352 25

Chart No. 8

Bengal Regular Army Class Composition--1883

Ethnic/Religious Type
Cavalry (Troops) Infantry Companies Total
Punjabi Muslim
14 25 39
Pathan Muslim
10 15 25
Hindustani "
23 36 59
Total Muslim
47 Troops 76 Companies 123 Troops/Coys
31 146 177
24 77 101
- 53 53
Total Non-Muslim
55 Troops 276 Companies 331 Troops/Coys
Total Bengal Army
102 Troops 352 Companies 454 Troops/Coys

We will also discuss in brief the process of successive reduction of the Madras and Bombay Armies. Firstly we will deal with the Madras Army. The process of reduction of the Madras Army commenced from 1824 and reached its logical conclusion only in 1922. We have already discussed that the East India Company faced the toughest military resistance in Southern India during the period 1780-1803. By 1803 all military threats were disposed of in Madras and in the southern states of India. This led to a change in attitude on part of the British governors of Madras.

The army was no longer the first priority, since there was no threat, and this meant that civilians were now more keen to reduce the Madras Army and increase their surplus revenue. Thus the Madras Army was reduced from 52 infantry battalions in 1824 to 1864. This reduction had no link with the "Martial Races Theory". It may be however, noted, as earlier discussed, that the Madras Army had a higher ratio of Muslims than both the Bengal and Bombay Armies.

The Bengal Army share around 1857 as earlier discussed in the last chapter, being about 20 % and that of Madras Army being 39.43% and 5.8 % as shown in the table above. During the period 1880-1893 the bias against the Madras and Bombay Armies was systematically advanced by various British officers headed by Roberts who commanded Madras Army from 1881 to 1885. Roberts served as C in C Bengal Army and thus C in C India (the C in C Bengal Army was also overall C in C India) from 1885 and 1893. During this period he advanced a theory based on his observations of the Madras Army that the Madras soldier was less martial than the soldiers recruited from the north.

The bias against Madras Army was also rationalised based on its poor performance in Burma. Later research proved that Madras Army’s alleged poor performance in Burma was based more on subjective and situational factors; rather than on anything specifically bad or non-martial in the Madras Army.

Roberts cited the cases of the 12th Madras Infantry at Minhla in November 1885 in the Third Burmese War and of the 10th Madras Infantry during the Chin Hills insurrection of 1888-89. An infantry or cavalry units refusing to advance in face of enemy fire though highly improper has little to do with martial qualities of a nation or race as a whole. At the siege of Bhurtpore as we have already discussed earlier three purely British infantry units i.e. H.M 75th Foot, H.M 76th Foot and the Ist Bengal Europeans refused to advance 39 at Parwan in September 1840 in the First Afghan War the 2nd Bengal Light Cavalry due to some inexplicable reason refused to charge 40 and was, therefore, later disbanded. Fortescue did not term this incident as an example of non-martial behaviour but said that “it was one of those incidents which after endless explanations remain always mysterious”41 At Chillianwala on 13 January 1849, one of the most illustrious cavalry regiments of the British Army H.M 14th Light Dragoons, when ordered to charge the Sikhs, turned about and galloped rearwards!42 This regiment was not disbanded, nor did its conduct make the British any less martial than the Madrasis! These incidents as a matter of fact are complex and have a deep connection with a multiple number of complex situational factors like the personality of the commander (s)/commanding officer/other officers, strength and nature of enemy resistance, terrain factors, defensive strength of enemy fortifications, logistics etc etc. The British Army is one of the finest armies in the world, but it failed at Gallipoli, in France in 1940 and in various other places. The reverses, however, in no way prove that the British Army was non-martial or bad. These merely prove that the troops were badly led, or suffered from organisational or doctrinal imbalances or inadequacies. Thus the bad performance of the Madras Army at Minhla in Third Burma War, had a deep connection with the fact that the commanding officer and some other officers were unfit for active service. They were physically so unfit that they could not walk along with their troops. In addition these officers were newly posted to the 12th Madras Infantry and hardly knew their men.43 Roberts and others were, however, bent upon reducing the Madras Army and Burma War was taken as a test case to justify the reduction of the Madras Army! Thus the number of Madrasis serving in infantry and cavalry units was rapidly reduced once the three Presidency Armies were amalgamated in 1895.The size of the Madras Army was already being reduced since 1858 since no internal or external threat justified the number of troops it had. But the ethnic bias of Roberts and others decisively reduced the number of Madrasi soldiers in the Indian Army. Thus the Madras infantry units whose total number stood at 52 in 1858 were reduced to 1864 to 40 units. This reduction was an economy measure and had no connection with the Martial Race Theory. In 1882 another reduction in the light of Eden Commissions recommendations of reducing all three armies, brought the number of Madras infantry units down to 32, just like in Bombay and Bengal Armies. From 1891 to 1922, however, the number of Madrasis serving in the army was rapidly reduced in the light of Roberts views. The following table illustrates this process which started in 1824 and reached its logical conclusion in 1922-33:--

Chart No. 9

From the rough ethnic region wise classification this came to the following percentages:-- 36
Punjabi Companies
Infantry Hindustani Companies Infantry Gurkha/Hill Men Infantry Companies Pathan Infantry Companies
Punjabi Muslim-
25 Muslim-Hindu 36 Gurkha- 53 Settled - 10
Dogra -
8 Brahman-Hindu 25 Nefa Hill Men- 9 Tribal - 5
Sikhs -
77 Rajput- 47 Assamese- 3

Other Hindu 44
120 Total- 152 Total- 65 Total- 15
34. 09%
43.18 % 18. 46 % 4. 26 %

Chart No. 10

Table Illustrating Ethnic/Religious Composition of Punjab Irregular Frontier Force as in 1889
Cavalry (Troops) Infantry (Companies) Total
Muslim Hindustani (Including Ranghars)
6 Nil 6
Muslim Pathan
7.5 16 23.5
Muslim Punjabi
4.5 19 23.5
Total Muslim
18 Troops 35 Companies 53 Troops/Coys
14 52 66
Hindus—Jats /Dogras/Others
6 25
Total Non-Muslims
20 Troops 77 Companies 97 Troops/Coys
Total Strength Punjab Irregular Frontier Force 1889
38 Troops 112 Companies 150 Troops/Coys

Chart No. 11

Total Madras Infantry Regiments in 1824
Total by 1864 Total by 1882 Total by 1891 Total by 1904 Total by 1907 Total by 1922
40 32 31 28 26 22
From 1862 to 1864 Between 1902 and 1904 In 1922 15 of the above mentioned units were redesignated as Punjab Regiments and the remaining 7 units were dis-banded between 1923 and 1933.

By 1922 the remaining 22 Madras Infantry units were totally reduced or Punjabised/Gurkhised/Moplahised/Disbanded.45 According to one estimate by 1904 only thirteen Madras Infantry Units consisted of locally recruited men46; while the fifteen remaining Madras Infantry units had been Punjabised. The plea that the Madrasis were not fit to serve in the cold weather of NWFP was cited as an excuse for recruiting Punjabi and Pathan troops.47 This argument does not explain as to how and why are the same Madrasi Hindus are today successfully serving in much harsher and colder climate in Siachin and Ladakh etc!

A similar bias was rationalised against the Bombay Army based on its supposedly poor performance at Battle of Maiwand in the Second Afghan War, which we have seen was wrong since the regiments which allegedly performed badly were not composed of manpower from Bombay province. However somehow the Marathas survived despite the propaganda against them by Roberts and proved their worth in the First World War. A major reason of this was the military requirements of Frontier protection and Internal Security duties in Sindh and Balochistan which were part of the Bombay Presidency/Province. Even then the process of smuggling Punjabi manpower was encouraged and a large number of Punjabi/Pathan troops enrolled in the Bombay Army in the period 1880-1922.