Sex and the British-Indian Army

From Dr Hamid Hussain.

Some have asked questions about sexuality during the Raj as related to the army.  Enjoy.

Hamid

When British arrived in India, India was sexually more liberal than Europe. Heterosexual and homosexual relations were common, open and celebrated in poetry and paintings.  Concubines were a common phenomenon practiced by all religious and ethnic groups.  In contrast, there was quite strict sexual repression in Victorian England.  There are two aspects of sexual relations; one relating to British soldiers and second British officers. In eighteenth and nineteenth century India, prostitution was legal and well-regulated in British controlled India.  In 1850s, there were seventy five military districts and in every district prostitution was supervised by authorities.  Doctors of Indian Medical Service (IMS) were responsible for regulating brothels.  All prostitutes were registered, minimum age for prostitutes was fifteen and women were provided with their own living quarters or tents that were regularly inspected.  Some establishments were quite large and brothel in Lucknow had fifty five rooms.  Prostitutes infected with sexually transmitted diseases were removed and not allowed to practice their trade until recovered.  Both native and European soldiers used these bazaars; however sepoys were discouraged to visit those prostitutes preferred by European soldiers.  Most British soldiers were from lower strata of the society and were not held to the standard of a British officer.  British soldiers visited prostitutes more often than sepoys.  One reason was that British soldiers were not married while sepoys were usually married men.   These bazaars were called ‘lal bazaars’ (red streets).  Both heterosexual and homosexual relations were common.  British regiments spent several years in India and many a times children were born of such relationships.  Special houses and schools were assigned as early as eighteenth century for these children.  Continue reading “Sex and the British-Indian Army”

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Indians as Officers in the British Indian Army

From Dr Hamid Hussain. Some random notes about the first generation of Indians to become officers in the British Indian army, this note includes interesting tidbits about the handling of religion, class and caste issues in the Indian army in those times.

Pakistani general perception that somehow British favored non-Muslims as far as army was concerned is incorrect:   In view of anti-British attitude of Hindu dominated Congress, British had more sympathetic view of Muslims.  Congress had refused to endorse war effort while Muslim League wholeheartedly supported war effort.

British support applied to all classes of Muslims; including politicians (many Muslim League leaders would meet regularly with Deputy Commissioners to get directions), British senior civil servants giving instructions directly to Muslim junior Indian Civil Service (ICS) officers regarding law and order bypassing senior Hindu ICS officers fearing that later may pass on information to Congress (Police especially CID files of that time period are a very interesting read in this regard).   Same was true for army officers.  Many senior officers especially Auk helped to push many Muslim officers.  Ayub Khan (1 Assam Reg.), Sher Ali Khan Pataudi (1/1 Punjab) and Habibullah Khan Khattak (I Bihar Reg.) were given battalion commands during the war by direct intervention of Auk.

The issue of DSO has another angle.  It is usually given to the rank of Lt. Colonel and above.  A lucky major may bag it if really good.  Very few Indian officers were at Lt. Colonel rank during the war and those commanding battalions in combat theatres were very few.  Non-Muslim officers being senior got appointments and hence got the opportunity to get awards.  Many pioneer Muslim officers had left the army early for more prestigious Indian Political Service (IPS) and the list include Sahabzada Khurshid, Sikandar Mirza, ABS Shah, MAO Beg etc.  If they had stayed in the army, they would have been senior enough to get battalion commands and hence a shot at gallantry awards in combat.

Most Muslim officers were Captains. I don’t have the whole list but I think disproportionately more Muslim officers got Military Cross (MC); an award for which they were eligible.

I agree with you that maintaining loyalty of Indian officers was crucial during the war especially in view of nationalist campaign by Congress with large scale protests as well as emergence of Indian National Army (INA) from Indian POWs in Japanese POW camps.  Many benefits such as equal pay, important postings and possibly more liberal gallantry awards were part of this effort.

We need not to forget the attitude of Indian officers; both Muslim & non-Muslim.  Almost all Indian officers had deep antipathy towards politicians and saw them as rabble rousers. Overwhelming majority considered INA as cowards who broke their oath while in captivity and accused them of taking an easy way out of a harsh imprisonment.  This attitude was maintained right up to the eve of independence in August 1947.  All officers were against the division of Indian army.  To understand this phenomenon, we need to look beyond the post-independence revisionist statements of some officers i.e. LG B.M. Kaul, General Ayub Khan, MG Sher Ali Khan Pataudi, MG Tajjammul Hussain.  We need to look at the files of that time period and actual statements of officers that are very well preserved in archives.

A small number of ambitious officers tried to hob nob with politicians at the very near end when they saw that British were going.  I’ll put B Kaul and JN Chaudhuri of India in this category.  MG Akbar Khan of 1951 conspiracy fame of Pakistan army was also ambitious but made the mistake of opening his mouth in front of Jinnah.  He complained that they hoped to get rapid promotions but in view of Jinnah’s decision to keep senior British officers, this process will be delayed.  Jinnah promptly rebuked him.

Racial & Class Bias: In general, British conquered India and naturally like any dominant group had no high regard for anything Indian.  They saw their own culture, religion and society superior.  In Victorian era, British army officers were exclusively from aristocracy.  Purchase of commission meant that only affluent could afford an officer commission.  Commoners were only to serve in the ranks and hope to become Sergeant as the ultimate professional ceiling.  If a British aristocrat officer was not allowing even a British commoner to enter the elite officer club, how he could allow an Indian?  After First World War, changes in English and Indian societies opened new avenues.  British encouraged traditional Indian elites including landlords, members of civil service, police and army to educate their children so that they could qualify for commission.  These classes were in service of the government for a long time and in return prospered under Imperial patronage.  Members of these classes joining army as officers ensured continued loyalty of the Indian officer corps.  This also diminished chances of subversion by newly emerging nationalist politics.

The bias was not simply a one way street between English and Indians.  Both English and Indian societies were riddled with social and class distinctions and outright bigotry. An English aristocrat had nothing in common with a peasant from highlands.  Similarly, Hindu Rajput would not allow a low caste Hindu to touch his food.  A Pathan Muslim had no affinity nor respect for a Bengali Muslim.  The problem went all the way down even in small and distinct communities.  Two examples will suffice;  High caste Jat Sikhs would not serve in a regiment with non-Jat Sikhs (Lobanas) let alone low caste Mazhabi & Ramdasia Sikhs. Hence these different groups of Sikhs were recruited in different regiments.  Dogras were Hindus but Rajput and Brahman Dogras would not eat together.  5th Probyn Horse traditionally had Dogra Rajput squadron.In Second World war, due to increased manpower needs that could not be met from traditional classes, Dogra Brahmans were recruited. This added to administrative headache as in Probyn’s Horse instead of squadron mess for a single class, troop messing had to be implemented as Brahman Dogra would not eat with Rajput Dogra. It is no mean achievement that a first class army was created despite these administrative nightmares.

In 1932, it was decided to start an Indian Military Academy to train officers in India and in December 1932, first batch of 40 cadets started their training. The first batches of Indian Commissioned Officers (ICOs) faced discrimination even from fellow Indian officers who attended Sandhurst and known as King Commissioned Indian Officers (KCIOs).  In 1934, when two Sikh ICOs joined 3rd Cavalry there was a debate whether they should be allowed to eat in the mess.  3rd Cavalry was Indianized in 1932 and several KCIOs (Iftikhar Khan, Shahid Hamid, K. P. Dhargalkar, P. C. Banerjee, P. S. Nair, K. K. Varma and Nawabzada Agha Raza) were already serving in the regiment.

On the other end of the spectrum, the world of officer corps was opened to the least educated and very conservative class of India.  One example will show the enormous adjustment problem for both the Indian officers and their spouses of this class.  Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon enlisted as soldier and spent three years in an infantry battalion (4/14 Punjab Regiment).  Light machine gun section of infantry battalions had mules for transport and every soldier was rotated to take care of the mules.  Gurbaksh on his turn also performed this duty while his wife Basant helped him in polishing the mule saddle.  Gurbaksh qualified for Dehra Dun and after successfully completing his training was commissioned as an officer in 1/14 Punjab Regiment.  One can easily imagine the psychological barrier that Gurbaksh and his wife had to cross as the worlds of sepoy and officer were poles apart.  Even an Indian officer of aristocratic background (LG Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, MG Sher Ali Khan Pataudi) or highly educated (General JN Chaudhri and LG Atiq ur Rahman were educated in England) would have found it very difficult to see Gurbaksh as brother officer. There is plenty of evidence that many Indian KCIOs from Sandhurst didn’t consider fellow Indian officers from Dehra Dun as equal.  They called them ‘Dun Pansies’.  Some Indian officers completely identified with British ethos and were called ‘Brindians’.  General JN Chaudhri when instructor at Staff College Quetta deliberately kept away from Indian officers and only interacted with British officers.  This attitude reached to a point where all other Indian officers at staff college rebuked him with social boycott. MG Iftikhar Khan ‘Ifti’ was also a ‘Brindian’.

This lingered on even after independence in India and Pakistan.  In early 1950s, ‘martial class’ senior Indian officers (Rajput & Sikh) used to whisper that Indian army would not accept a ‘dhoti parshad’ to be appointed army chief using a derogatory term for Hindu non-martial races.   In Pakistan army, contempt was shown for Bengalis and General Ayub Khan refused to expand Bengali recruitment stating that he could not take risk with classes who have not been tried in combat.

There was another problem with second generation of officers.  Officers whose fathers were commissioned officers vs those whose fathers were VCOs belonged to two different social classes.  Former were educated in missionary schools in line with English public school system, had good command of English, brought up in cities and their female family members educated and outgoing. Later, mainly from rural and conservative backgrounds, educated at village schools or special schools set up for sons of VCOs (King George Military Colleges), less command of English language and females mainly in ‘purdah’ and generally not educated.

Surprisingly, combat experience of Second World War where young British and Indian officers fought together broke many barriers. Professional conduct and acts of bravery of young Indian officers showed to British colleagues that Indians were no inferior in the profession of arms.  On the other hand, urban educated British youth raised in more liberal environment were not of the same old ‘Imperial mold’.  The color bar of clubs in India was broken by some of these British officers.  They refused membership of clubs that would not allow Indian officers and some cavalry regiments refused to lend their horses to such clubs for equestarian activities.  This comradeship is born by the fact that decades after independence, these officers kept in touch with each other attending regimental re-unions.

Subedar Major Prabhat Chand Katoch:  He won his MC in 1914 in France.  When all British officers of the battalion became casualty, he took over the command of the battalion.

6/13 FFR suffered heavy casualties in Great War in western theatre and probably highest number of casualty rate as far as British officers are concerned.  Battalion landed in France with 13 British officers, 18 Indian officers and 810 other ranks.  A year later, no British officers, 4 Indian officers and 75 ORs remained of the original contingent. Ten British officers were killed including their CO Lt. Colonel P. C. Elliott-Lockhart; originally from Guides and 19 wounded.  The only officer not wounded was Captain Inskip who was shell shocked and not present. Subedar Major Prabhat Chand of 6/13th FFR was the first Indian who was awarded Military Cross (MC) for his conduct and battalion command when all British officers became casualty.  Battalion used to have a tradition where Subedar Major would parade off the battalion on ceremonial occasions remembering Prabhat Chand’s bravery.

 

Three brothers had illustrious career (see picture below).  Prabhat’s valor already known.  Col Bakshi Chand Katoch was awarded an IDSM in Mesopotamia when he was the Subedar Major of the 56th FFR. He was subsequently commissioned with the first batch of KCIOs from the Cadet College, Indore in Dec 1919. Honorary Captain Bidhi Chand was Subedar Major of 38thDogra; a post I think he held for 18 years.

 

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Post Modernism (c)

Camille Paglia says (as Jordan Peterson nods along) that Post Modernism is a rejection of:

  • 1960s radicalism (few radicals have gone to graduate school)
  • India, Hinduism, consciousness, psychedelics
  • genuine multiculturalism
  • the body and sensory experience

What are everyone’s thoughts on the psychological basis of Post Modernism?

Post Modernism (b)

Post Modernism (a)

Intellectual Dark Web (a)

Intellectual Dark Web

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Is it time for Asian Americans and Latino Americans to ask to be considered “white”? (a)

This is the next article in the series “Is it time for Asian Americans and Latino Americans to ask to be considered “white.” Please also read Razib’s  Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act on Affirmative Action.

This panel brought up the issue of affirmative action benefiting caucasians at the expense of people of Asian heritage. According to a 2004 analysis of 1990s data Asians on average needed 140 points more on the SAT (out of 1600) than caucasians all else being equal to have the same probability of admission to elite universities.

Do any readers support race base affirmative action that benefits caucasians at the expense of people of Asian ancestry? If so, can you please share why? I have rarely met Asians who give a strong intellectual case for race based  affirmative action that benefits caucasians at the expense of people of Asian ancestry other than the following arguments:

  • We don’t want to be personally called fascist, nazi, a supporter of the patriarchy, racist, bigoted, prejudiced, imperialist, colonialist, oppressor, hegemonic, exploiter, white supremacist (not joking, Asians are frequently called white supremacist . . . I don’t understand why) etc.
  • We don’t want Asians as a group being called fascist, nazi, supporter of the patriarchy, racist, bigoted, prejudiced, imperialist, colonialist, oppressor, hegemonic, exploiter, white supremacist etc.
  • We want to reduce the “evil eye” or jealousy towards Asians
  • We are guilty because of Asian privilege and Asian oppression of blacks and poor people (never met Asians over 22 who say this, but many K-12 rich Asians children believe this now)
  • This is our punishment because Asians are very fascist, nazi, supportive of the patriarchy, racist, bigoted, prejudiced, imperialist, colonialist, oppressive, hegemonic, exploitative, white supremacist etc. (never met Asians over 22 who say this, but many K-12 rich Asians children believe this now)
  • Xenophobic caucasians might attack us if we don’t support affirmative action.
  • Blacks might attack us if we don’t support affirmative action.

 

In the above discussion Asian Americans seemed afraid to share their actual views. Why are Asian Americans so scared?

To repeat, please share any other reasons you might have for supporting race based affirmative action that discriminates against Asians.

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India Still Rising (a)

This is the second article in this series after India Still Rising.

India’s ministry of external affairs has little understanding of China, America, India or the world. The ministry of external affairs has little institutional understanding of economics, how global commons works, how global collaboration works; or the importance of:

  • execution
  • transparency
  • honesty

Part of the issue is that the ministry of external affairs lacks internal think tanks and doesn’t extensively use external think thanks. Another part of the problem is post modernist colonization of the mind, virtue signaling, risk averse careerist mindset. The ministry of external affairs needs to hire older experienced private sector Indians, ex-patriot Indians or Indians who have extensively interfaced with foreigners. They also need to learn to better use external resources such as external experts, academics, religious institutions and think thanks. Including foreign ones. [For example consulting wise friends of India such as Zachary Latif.] However to use or collaborate with foreign resources requires the ministry of external affairs to get its own house in order first . . . or it risks being played by various interest groups without a deep understanding of what these interest groups are.

India Still Rising

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Saturday South Asian Questions

  • Is there such a thing about a Deccan Culture? I don’t necessarily mean the “Dakhini” culture but an intermediate geo-cultural zone between North & South India.
  • As a corollary it’s a bit interesting that the “Dakhini” culture didn’t emerge as a binding agent quite in the same way as the Delhite-Hindustani one.
  • In the spirit of this thread about differences between North & South Karnataka; I was looking at the 50 state proposal in India. Does India need more states?
  • I was shocked to learn about “Gandhinagar“, which is the new capital of Gujarat. I do remember there was controversy to change the name of Ahmedabad but it seemed done and dusted.
  • My personal view is that it seems churlish and rather offensive to make a “Saffron” sister city to Ahmedabad but my view is that once again we must be grateful to QeA for avoiding cultural (if not physical) extinction.
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Book Review: India’s Wars. A Military History 1947-1971

 

India’s wars by Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam is a history of the wars (external wars, not counter-insurgencies) fought by the Indian army from 1947 to 1971. It is a pretty good summary, but does have it’s weaknesses.

The book starts with a bit of the “pre-history” of the Indian army. Interestingly Subramaniam chooses to highlight two distinct streams that he believes should get credit for the internal culture and ethos of the Indian army. One is obvious: the British Indian army, which was the parent organization that was split (unequally) between Pakistan and India to create the Indian army. The second is an angle that would not have been included by an official observer/author in 1950, but that has obviously grown since then to the point that a Pucca Air Marshal gives it near-equal billing in his book: i.e. the armies of the Marhattas and the Sikhs. I think this reflects contemporary politics and cultural arguments in India more than it reflects the reality of the Indian army from 1947 to 1971, but will be happy to be corrected by people who have better direct knowledge of the Indian army in that period. Anyway, the author gives a quick and very brief account of the British Indian army. The origins and growth of that force are dealt with very quickly and summarily, but there is more details about developments closer to 1947. This is not a book that is heavy on relevant numerical data (i.e. this is not the sort of book where you get tables showing “The caste/religious/ethnic composition of the British Indian army from X to 1947”) and this is a weakness that persists throughout the book; the author is not big on tables or data. Perhaps as someone who grew up with some of that history, I did not find it detailed or insightful enough, but most readers may not mind this omission too much. And even if you are a British Indian army brat, the sections on the origins of the Royal Indian Air Force and the Royal Indian Navy are likely to add to your knowledge. Incidentally, many of the early aviators in the Indian air force seem to have Bengali surnames; the author does not comment on this, but I wonder if anyone has more information about this. If you do, please add in the comments section.

Continue reading “Book Review: India’s Wars. A Military History 1947-1971”

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Between the saffron and scimitar

On my other weblog I have a post, On The Instrumental Uses Of Arabic Science, which reflects on the role that the idea of science, the Islamic world, and cultural myopia, play in our deployment of particular historical facts and dynamics. That is, an idea, a concept, does not exist on an island but is embedded in a cultural environment. Several different contexts.

My father is a professional scientist, and a Muslim who lives in the West. In our house there was always a copy of The Bible, the Qu’ran and Science: The Holy Scriptures Examined in the Light of Modern Knowledge. To those not convinced about the beliefs of Islam, as I never was, it was not a convincing book. But it played a particular role in my father’s life of the mind as both a Muslim and a scientist. Its arguments were less important in their detail than that a French scientist had written a book showing that Islam and science were compatible and that in fact, the Koran had prefigured scientific truths.

The intellectual achievements of medieval Islam, particularly the phase focused around the House of Wisdom, are a real thing in and of themselves. But more often they exist as tools for the implicit or explicit agendas of particular peoples with ends which are separate and distinct from an understanding of the past on its own terms.

For many Muslims, this period defines what Islam could have been. Should have been. More traditionalist Muslims will have a relatively understated take, and perhaps attribute the passing of this period due to external forces (e.g., the collapse of central authority by the end of the 9th century). More progressive Muslims will make a bolder claim, that Islam, that Muslims, made the wrong decisions internally (al-Ghazali often emerges as a villain).

A modernist, perhaps Whiggish, take would be that the 9th century of Islam was a “false dawn.” Illustrative of the acidic power of rationality, but an instance when it receded in the face of faith (the Mutazilites often become heroes in these tales). A more multiculturalist and contemporary progressive Western take would likely emphasize that Islamic cultural production was just as ingenious as that of the West, and its diminishment was due to the suffocating effect of colonialism.

But there are even more exotic takes one could propose. The shift from the Umayyads in Damascus to the Abbasids in Baghdad was a shift of the Islamic world from the west to the east. The prominence of Iranian culture during the latter period was palpable. The Caliph al-Mamun was half Iranian, and almost moved the capital of the Abbasids to Merv in Khorasan. The Barmakid family were ethnically Iranian, but also originally hereditary Buddhists. The historian of Central Asia, Christopher Beckwith, has alluded to an “Indian period” of Islamic civilization when the influence from Dharmic religion and Indian culture was strong. For example, Beckwith and others have argued that the madrassa system derives from that of Central Asian viharas.

But ultimately this post and this blog is not about Classical Islamic civilization and history. Rather, I want to pivot to the discussion of Islam and India.

This blog now gets in the range of the same amount of traffic as my other weblog. But a major difference is the source of traffic. About two times as many visitors to this weblog come from the USA as India. So Americans are dominant. But, on my other weblog, 15 times as many visitors come from the USA as India. Additionally, since this is a group weblog, I’m pretty liberal about comments, and so this weblog receives between 10 to 100 times as many comments as my other weblog. Obviously, since most people in the world are stupid, many of the comments are stupid. I try to ignore that.

Rather, let me focus on the “hot-button” issue of Islam and India, and how it impacts people here. In the comments of this weblog. Let’s divide the comment(ers) into two stylized camps. Or actually, one person and another camp. The person is commenter Kabir, who has taken it upon himself to defend the honor of Indo-Islamic civilization. On the face of it, that’s not a major problem, but he tends to take extreme offense and demand linguistic and topical policing that’s frankly rather obnoxious (this tendency extends beyond Islam, as he is a living personification of Syme). He’s a bully without the whip. Kabir is somewhat annoying, but I can honestly always just delete his comments. He’s one person.

Continue reading “Between the saffron and scimitar”

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