Soldier Speak: How the Army Upholds Unity in Linguistic Diversity


It must be nothing short of a puzzle for many of our countrymen, and much more for people abroad, to think of an army with soldiers from multiple faiths, caste, ethnicity, language and many other aspects of diversity. The rules to victory in battle include communication, a clear understanding of the commander’s intent, the ability of sub-units and units to comprehend its intricacies, and fight as one machine under clear directions.

Not only do they all click as a team, there are no issues on sensitivity of faith or any such aspect. How does all this happen so effectively? More importantly, how does communication take effect?

Ethnically speaking, the Indian Army comprises of three different kinds of regiments. There are pure single-class regiments; all-India all-class regiments; and fixed composition regiments. The first is the simplest to manage as all men come from a single region, ethnicity and faith except a few men who bring their trade with them. The clerks, cooks or washer men could be from any part of India and any faith or ethnicity. These few men forming five percent of the unit strength keep their individuality but by choice adopt the culture and habits of the core community of the unit. Sikh clerks speak perfect Gurkhali and a Tamil equipment repairer loves his kadhi chawal while conversing in Dogri.

All establishments publish routine orders which then become the authority for action or make verbal information official. Gurkha units publish these in Gurkhali. Rajput units publish in Hindi as it is understood and spoken by all. But many units which are comfortable with spoken but not written Hindustani prefer to publish in the most unique scripts – Roman. This is the spelling out of Hindustani in English script.

The institution most revered is the Sarv Dharam Sthal (SDS) where the divine altar comprises symbols of all faiths. If there happen to be 120 or more men of a faith in one such unit then a religious teacher (RT) is authorized. All RTs are trained at the Institute of National Integration (INI); many even in the Army may not be aware of the existence of such an institution. It educates the RTs on military values and patriotism as related to faith and the concept of unity in diversity.

Minds of soldiers, conditioned for combat and adverse situations of any kind even in peacetime, gel together.

In most units, on Sundays there is a special ceremony at the SDS where all officers and men (families too in peace stations) assemble for religious discourse by the RTs who speak in succession. The message is usually about duty, sacrifice, patriotism or such values. The Commanding Officer (CO) may be of any faith but in single class and single faith units the faith of the troops is the faith of all officers.

People even in our country are surprised when they learn of this and shake their heads in disbelief as they relate to a world stricken by faith based conflicts.

War cries are common with the infantry regiments and these also become the greetings in peace time. My regiment, The Garhwal Rifles uses “Bol Badri Vishal Lal ki Jai” (Victory to the followers of Lord Vishnu, Badri Vishal being a personification of Lord Vishnu). The greeting is usually “Jai Badri Vishal” and it is ingrained in you, with your morning cup of tea being handed over with the greeting.

Even as all the above exist as practices it is the strong moral code of the Indian Army which ensures a harmonious understanding among men in uniform. The greatest contribution to common culture and common communication, irrespective of origin, comes from the training at the pre-commision academies and the training centres where the thinking and outlook of a raw civilian is rebooted through a vigorous course of physical and mental conditioning. Namak, Naam aur Nishan (loyalty, honor and pride) is the essential ethos on which team work functions. Minds of soldiers, conditioned for combat and adverse situations of any kind even in peacetime, gel together. The spoken word is unimportant; it is the spirit which beckons, especially within units and sub-units where close-knit teams function.

Unique as it is, the Indian Army is threatened by the lack of understanding of its ethos and value system by people outside who may sometimes guide its destiny out of sheer ignorance. Tampering with an institution with such a fine fabric woven by sacrifice and dedication of scores before us, cannot be allowed to be taken apart. I for one would give my life to retain it all.

(Author is a second generation officer with a passionate love for the Indian Army, is also an ex GOC of the Srinagar based 15 Corps)

(The writer is a veteran Lieutenant General, who commanded the Srinagar based 15 Corps. He is now associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. The views expressed above are of the author’s own and The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.

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