My experience with Inclusion and Diversity in India

I grew up in a privileged military background, as my dad was an officer in the Indian Army. We lived in enclosed cantonments (the British equivalent to a Fort) all over India, separate from the civilian life and social dynamics in the nearby towns and cities. We had our own hospitals, schools, shopping centers, entertainment areas, athletic facilities, and did not usually need to go out in the city. The army culture is truly diverse and tries to be inclusive. Officers and troops join from all over the country and your rank, and not your cultural or religious background, decide your position in the organization. All religious beliefs and faiths are equally respected and it is common to find Sarv Dharm Sthals (worship areas for all faiths) on the same site. Being a religious leader or priest is also a specialist trade in the army, which means based on who is available, you can find a Sikh priest leading a Hindu worship ceremony during Janmashtami or Diwali, a Christian priest leading a Muslim worship ceremony during Eid and so on. Sounds great, right? Even the military is not free from the discrimination at play inspired by the colonial past. There is segregation in facilities and services offered to officers and their families vs troops and their families. For example, I remember getting to go to the front of the line at the hospital as I was the son of an officer, while enlisted men and their families were waiting to be seen. Another prevalent example of discrimination is the Sahayak (orderly) system.

Parts of India were under British rule by way of the East India Company since the 1600s, and most of modern India was under the direct rule of the British Monarchy after 1858, all the way up until independence in 1947. The system was a British minority ruling over an overwhelming Indian majority. The 1901 Census reported about 170,000 British nationals living in India, ruling over a population of 294 million. [1] Such an extreme concentration of power in all career government positions left a vacuum when the British left by 1950. This vacuum was filled by a small minority of educated Indians, who resisted changing the colonial system already in place. This translated into the continuing of the Sahayak system in the Indian Army. British officers used to recruit Indian enlisted men to help upkeep their uniform, polish their shoes, cook food, clean and maintain their bungalows and walk their dogs. This system continues to this day, where at any given time, up to 25,000 soldiers may be employed as orderlies for officers at all ranks. Even retired generals had access to serving enlisted men, which was scrapped earlier this year. [2] More educated and experienced soldiers are joining the army in increasing numbers and pushing for this system to change. There is staunch resistance to any effort to change the system as the generals in power have the most to lose from no longer having access to recruit orderlies. Soldiers who have spoken out exposing this unfair system have been court-martialed and jailed. [3] Although I understand the value of holding on to tradition, this unfair system which opens the door to mistreatment of soldiers needs to end. Just my $0.02.



2 thoughts on “My experience with Inclusion and Diversity in India

  1. Thank you, Anurag, for sharing this interesting historical change in India. I found it similar to Saudi Arabi (other Arab countries) when talking about the soldiers being treated differently in favor of the officers. But I think this has nothing to do with the colonization of Britain. To me, it’s more to the military systems. Likewise in the educational system, during my undergrad, the professors used to have different bathrooms and restaurants but they don’t say explicitly and don’t prevent you if you use them.


  2. Thanks for sharing. Interesting that hospital staff did not treat the more severe patients first.
    In America, I think we need to stop boarding 1st class passengers first – just because they can afford the ticket. You are reminded twice of this – once when they board before you and again when they are have already been served a drink while you are still getting to your seat.


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