As many as 120 veterans of the Indian Armed Forces have written to President Ram Nath Kovind seeking stern action against those spreading fake news on social media about a "Muslim regiment" of the Indian Army that refused to fight in the 1965 war with Pakistan, according to several media reports.
Asking the government to issue a warning to Facebook and Twitter, the signatories have demanded impartial, firm and immediate action against propagators of these posts.
Appealing to the president to ensure that the secular and apolitical nature of the armed forces be preserved, they called for a probe.
"Investigate the antecedents of individuals who have made 'Muslim regiment' posts. Identify and charge individuals who have made 'Muslim regiment' posts for anti-national activities. Issue warning to the social media providers (Facebook and Twitter) who have enabled 'Muslim regiment' posts," they wrote.
The signatories to the letter include former officers of Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, NDTV reported.
'Disbanded Muslim regiment a lie'
Describing the allegations as a blatant falsehood, the veterans said: "India has never had any Muslim regiment and such blatant falsehoods, which began in May 2013, are still being insidiously spread on the social media at a time when the country is confronted with military tensions with both Pakistan and China."
The letter mentioned that the falsehood campaign originally began in May 2013, when a Twitter handle called 'World Hindus United' had posted, "In 1965 there was a regiment in Indian Army called Muslim regiment which refused to fight against Pakistan after which it was dismantled."
"The tweet was meant to show that Muslim soldiers had their loyalties to Pakistan rather than India. The Muslim regiment post has been re-tweeted many times thereafter, and its surfacing during the on-going Chinese aggression, is certainly an insidious attack on the morale of our armed forces," the letter said, pointing to 18 accounts among hundreds who retweeted and repeated this claim.
The letter further added that some senior-ranking veterans have unequivocally pointed these claims as "blatantly false".
Among them is Lt-General Syed Ata Hasnain (retd), who in a blog in The Times of India on 30 November, 2017, noted that this allegation was false, and possibly a part of Pakistan's Inter Services Public Relations's disinformation campaign.
The letter further cited examples of top gallantry medals being awarded to Havildar Abdul Hamid (Param Vir Chakra), Major (later Lt-General) Mohammad Zaki and Major Abdul Rafey Khan (Vir Chakras) in the 1965 war, among others.
The letter also mentioned about Brigadier Mohammad Usman, who chose to remain in the Indian Army despite being personally approached by Muhammad Ali Jinnah to move to Pakistan.
"Brig Usman fought the Pakistani invasion in Kashmir, was the senior-most officer killed in action in July 1948, and was posthumously awarded Mahavir Chakra for his gallantry. He lies buried in the Jamia Millia Islamia campus in Delhi," the letter read.
"Saying that Muslim soldiers of this so-called 'Muslim regiment' refused to fight the war against Pakistan in 1965 and hence the 'Muslim regiment' was disbanded, denigrates and questions the loyalty of all serving and retired Muslim soldiers. Further, it helps the enemy by striking at the morale of India's soldiers to degrade their operational capability," it said.
The signatories also noted that spread of such messages will promote mistrust among the ranks and that there should be official action against the perpetrators.
"It needs no emphasis that social unrest adversely affects the morale of soldiers who are far away from their families, doing their duty to defend our borders, at daily risk to life and limb," the letter concluded.