The recruitment policy of Indian Army to a great extent was shaped by the so called Martial Race Theory that originated in the aftermath of 1857 rebellion. Was it some kind of sinister designs of British or a natural grouping of soldiers? Analyze critically its cause and effects.
Martial Race was a designation created by officials of British India. The notion of “martial races” was formally developed and codified in the wake of the Indian Uprising of 1857 and became an important basis for the recruitment policy of the Indian Army.
As per martial race theory they classified each caste into one of two categories, ‘martial’ and ‘non-martial’. The ostensible reason was that a ‘martial race’ was typically brave and well-built for fighting, while the ‘non-martial races’ were those whom the British believed to be unfit for battle because of their sedentary lifestyles. However, an alternative hypothesis is that British-trained Indian soldiers were among those who rebelled in 1857 and thereafter recruitment policy favoured castes which had remained loyal to the British and diminished or abandoned recruitment from the catchment area of the Bengal army.
During this event some Indian troops (known as “Sepoys”), particularly in Bengal, mutinied, but the “loyal” Sikhs, Punjabis, Dogras, Gurkas, Garhwalis and Pakhtuns (Pathans) did not join the mutiny and fought on the side of the British Army. From then on, this theory was used to the hilt to accelerate recruitment from among these races, whilst discouraging enlistment of “disloyal” Bengalis and high-caste Hindus who had sided with the rebel army during the war.
As a political and social construct, the “martial race” doctrine was used as an instrument of imperial power to legitimize and regulate colonial rule on the Indian subcontinent.
The Martial Race theory has also been described as a clever British effort to divide and rule the people of India for their own political ends.”