Recruitment to President’s Bodyguard sparks a furore for bias against low castes

Even the Supreme Court has refused to intervene in the recruitment process, presently biased against the lower castes

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Ranjit Bhushan

On September 4, recruitment tests were reportedly held for the Presidents’ Bodyguard (PBH) with the selection process, once again, stirring a hornet’s nest. As per Army recruitment sources, the President’s Bodyguard is open for recruitment to only Sikhs, Jats and Rajputs. But even among the Sikhs, Mazhabi and Ramdasiyas, considered low caste, are not to be considered. Neither are ‘Dalits’ and ‘Adivasis’ (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes), not to mention countless other communities.

The PBG is mostly confined to ceremonial duties in fine tunics that date back to the Raj, where pomp and pageantry were considered necessary to create an aura around the Viceroy.

The position of President’s bodyguard is only open to upper caste Sikhs, Jats and Rajputs 

While no one will admit it, the establishment is clear that it does not want to disturb the status quo, which goes back to the latter part of the 19th century in the aftermath of the 1857 revolt, which was followed by large scale military modernisation programme followed by the British.

In 1933, Lt Gen. Sir George MacMunn reckoned that of the 300 and odd million people of India then, “only 35 million belonged to the martial races and of them only three million were males between twenty and thirty five years of age. Recruitment from martial races became the norm since then.

In January this year, the Supreme Court had refused to entertain a petition, which challenged the recruitment process on the ground that persons belonging to only three castes were eligible for it. A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra dismissed the plea saying, “We do not get into these kinds of PILs”.

“How can a PIL be entertained against the President who is the head of the Republic? Heard. Dismissed,” the bench, that also comprised justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, said.

The Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy however have no such restrictive policy. The Army, on the other hand, has consistently maintained that recruitment is done on the basis of region and not religion.

Back in 2013, another petitioner, Ishwar Yadav from Rewari in Haryana, had contended that grouping of people from a particular region in an Army regiment is unconstitutional and amounts to discrimination based on caste, region and religion. In an affidavit filed in the apex court then, Yadav had countered the Army, which justified the policy on grounds of administrative convenience and operational requirements. He had also pleaded that such a policy needed to be discontinued as it did not apply to the Indian Navy and Air Force.

The Army told the Supreme Court that it did not recruit on the basis of caste, region and religion, but justified grouping of people coming from a region in a regiment for administrative convenience and operational requirements. In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the Army said, “The assessment of the petitioner with regard to single caste based regiments is incorrect since Dogra, Garhwal Rifles and Madras Regiment are not defined by caste but by region.” “Certain regiments of the Army are organised on lines of classification because social, cultural and linguistic homogeneity has been observed to be a force multiplier as a battle winning factor,” the affidavit had also claimed.

The controversy has riled former officials like Indian Navy’s Arun Visvanathan, who says that the Army is already diverse and multicultural. “There are regional quotas to ensure that the Army is diverse. However, some regions are under subscribed and others oversubscribed,” he said in a Facebook post.

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