Book Review: The Garrison State, 1949-1947

Published: Thu, 01 Jan 1970
Book By: Tan Tai Yong

This book in details talks about the Role of Sikhs in WWI I am summarising few of the section below the section

Recruiting in Punjab: "Martial Race" and the Military District

By the end of the nineteenth century, Punjab has replaced the North Central India, Bombay and Madras as the main recruiting ground for the Indian Army, supplying more than half the combatants for the entire force. The entire province has been opened as the main recruiting ground for army In India by the turn of the century. Rather, the military labor markets in Punjab, the number, and types of soldiers were recruited and the localities from where they were drawn, was extremely limited one in 1900.

Within Punjab only selected group of martial classes mainly Sikhs, Punjabi Muslims and, to a lesser extent, Dogras and Hindus Jats, were eligible for recruitments. All other groups and classes of Punjabi that did not fall in the categories designated as martial classes were automatically excluded.

A very specific sub-division went into the definition of a “martial class” and many regiments narrowed their selection to include only recruits from particular sub-caste, clan or tribes and localities.

Only Sikhs belonging to the dominant peasant Jat caste and adhering to the Khalsa creed were deemed ideal recruits and should be targeted for Sikh regiments. British recruiting manuals advised that

"….in judging the value of the tribes which supplied converts to Sikhism in the time of Guru Gobind Singh, who in fact formed the Singh people, … those tribes who, though they now supply converts to Sikhism, did not do so then, cannot be considered (or it is inadvisable to consider) as a true Sikhs."

The British choice of Khalsa Jat Sikh was perhaps understandable given the British belief that the socially dominant and militaristic Jat peasantry found in the heart of Punjab was naturally good material for the army. Sikhism had, after all, been militarized by the influx of numerous Jat peasant’s into the faith in the seventeenth century.

The Jat Sikhs from central Punjab were Hardy, strong and full of hard work… and the best quality Sikhs for the military purposes, Sikhs from the sub-montane tract, including the district of Hoshiarpur, Ambala, Gurdaspur, Sialkot, and Gujarat, were considered poor types and not suitable for the enlistment by British manuals

So, the recruitment was virtually limited to the Manjha area of central Punjab only and over 90% of the recruited Sikhs were listed as Jat Sikh, only other notable recruits were the Low caste Mazhabis Sikhs. All the recruits were between the age of 16-19.

The recruits of Punjabi Muslims were limited to those who belonged to the tribes of high social standing or reputation – the “Blood proud”

The Economics of Military service

The service in the military was generally attractive because of the certain and regular pay it promised. This helped people to get rid of debt that they have taken on the land and for some to purchase a new land.

Garrison Province at Work – WWI

During the world war, Punjab was converted into a virtual “home front” with the state firmly oriented towards supporting the war efforts.

Early Phase 1914-1915

When the war broke out no one in Punjab, and indeed India has anticipated that Indian army would be involved in what was then considered European war.

In sept 2014 GOI sent two division Meerut and Lahore to reinforce the British Expeditionary Force in France and by the June 1915, more than 80,000 combatants had been sent abroad from India to France and Mesopotamia.

To bolster the rapid dwindling regiments in the wake of outflow of men to various war fronts, the Army Department in India decided to increase the establishment of infantry and cavalry regiments of the Indian army. Consequently, soon after the first division were dispatched to France, it sanctioned the increase in the strength of the native infantry regiments from 912 to 1000 men, and of cavalry from 625 to 700 men. In May 2015 army sanctioned the formation of twenty new companies with the establishment of 114 men each.

In France, both the Ferozepur and Jullundhar Brigades of the Lahore Division lost Half of their men - killed or wounded or missing – within the first few weeks of arriving at the battlefront. The first two Indian regiments in France to engage the German onslaught were the 57th rifles and 129th Baluchi’s. They were in trenches from 23 to 30 Oct. 2014 and during that time lost 290 and 235 men respectively.

At the second battle of Ypres 1915, the Lahore division lost 3,889 men more than thirty percent of its total strength.

The recruitment in the Military districts was thus intensified to keep up the strengths of the units already in Europe and middle east, In the last 4 months of 1914 some 28,000 new recruits enlisted from India and 14000 came from Punjab and by July 1915 out of 78,232 soldiers recruited in India, 37,951 were Muslim, Sikhs, and Jats from Punjab.

Recruits perhaps under the impression that they were being enlisted for a limited expedition to another part of the empire, volunteered eagerly, enticed by the promise of economic benefits, and possibility lured by the prospect of travel to the foreign land. Furthermore, from late 1914 the price of the staple food and produce, especially wheat and sugar increased dramatically, and this provided an economic “push” factor to enlistment, consequently Punjab responded remarkably well in the first few months of the war where recruiting was concerned, and no difficulties were reported by recruiting officers in obtaining the required manpower. But as the war wore on, and the demands for military manpower kept increasing, recruiting officers in Punjab started to encounter difficulties in finding men who were willing to enlist.

As the British recruitment system was based on some caste, class, and tribes that they deemed fit to serve in the military more and more parties were coming to find recruits in “Military districts” and in Nov 1914, DG Rule and officer who was on recruiting duties noted that there were 41 other recruiting parties in Amritsar in addition to his. The one who was supplying more military recruits was more likely to get the promotion, so it gave rise to the unit rivalry. One recruiting office will scare off the potential recruits of other by attributing the faults to rival units.

Also, the initial enthusiasm for recruiting amongst the local population began to give way to reluctance, specialty after the experience of those who had fought in the western front was made to know to them through letters sent from the front.


By the middle of 1915, for manpower had reached crisis proportions. For the past few months, Punjab had supplied over 40,000 men, and eight-fold increase from the average peacetime yearly demand of men from the province’s, yet the demand for men was showing no sign of abating. This prompted a review of the recruit’s system in Punjab. I August 1915, it was suggested that soldier recruitment process should be improved with the civil and military administration. In Punjab, additional British recruiting officers and pensioned Indian Viceroy Commissioned Officer (CVOs) was appointed to strengthen the recruiting staff operating in military districts and to serve as outside arbitrators who could stay out of recruitment quota conflicts.

O’Dwyer believed that no effort should be spared for the successful execution of the war. He declared that he would not flinch from removing “every obstacle to the successful prosecution of the was”. Punjab, he argued, had enjoyed peace and prosperity brought by the British rule and now in the empire’s hour of the need, the province should return the benefits in full.

In a lengthy memorandum submitted to the viceroy in Sept 1916 at the latter’s request, O’Dwyer stressed the importance of the Civil Govt in Punjab being “intimately acquainted with the temper and the conduct of the troops” in the Indian army, half of which was raised in Punjab. He complained that the tendency of army headquarters in India to adopt a “policy of extreme secrecy” in cases of mutiny and sedition in the regiment would expose the civil govt to the “risk of having at any time to deal with hidden and unknown dangers”. The absence of intercommunication between Punjab Govt and the army in such matters, he argued would not only handicap the civil administration but would adversely affect the military machinery as well.

The Danger which O’Dwyer was afraid might afflict the army and its recruiting base in Punjab was highlighted by the Ghadar rebellion of 1914-15.

In Dec 1916, what would seem to have been a consequence of O’Dwyer recommendations, the old system of class recruiting was finally replaced by a new system, first introduced in Punjab, and later extended to the united provinces and the rest of India.

The new system removed the inconsistencies of the existing one by concentrating all recruiting operations in the office of the Adjutant General in Delhi. To give mobilization the official sanction and support of the GOI, a Central Recruiting Board was constituted in Delhi. Its basic responsibility was to study the overall demand for manpower from India and fix the Quota for each province to fulfill.

So, in Punjab, all the recruiting agencies were coordinated within a particular area, and intimate association of civil and military officers in the recruiting process was started. Under the new system known as “territorial system”, recruiting areas were redrawn to correspond with the administrative divisions of the province. Each of the newly constituted recruiting areas was put in the charge of a divisional recruiting officer, whose office was strengthened by an expanded staff. In each district, which under the new system constituted a basic recruiting unit, a district recruiting officer, normally an English-speaking Indian civil officer nominated by the district administration, was appointed to function as the civilian link to the military recruiting staff. The recruiting officer was made responsible for the recruitment for all classes within the civil division in which he was operating, and his office was the ultimate stage, a prospective recruit had to pass through before joining the regiment.
This afforded the army very important advantage of civil administration, unlike the army, it had structure framework which was province-wide and reached every level of society. This meant that group of Punjabis who had hitherto been excluded under the old class system of recruiting could now be reached and recruited into the army.
By the end of 1917 more than 22 new classes of Punjabis found military service opened for them for the first time. Under the new system, the entire line of civil hierarchy from the Lieutenant General in Lahore to the village Lambardars was utilized for the purpose of the mobilization.

In June soon after the central recruiting board in Delhi was appointed, a Provincial Recruitment Board was set up in Punjab’s capital Lahore, to assume direct control of a province-wide recruiting campaign. O’Dwyer sat at the helm, which included financial commissioner , commissioner of division of the province, district recruiting officer and number of tribal chiefs and landed elites from provinces , including Sardar Bahadur Gajjan Singh of Ludhiana, Khan Bahadur Malik Muhammad Amir Khan of Shamasabad, Rai Bahadur Chaudhri Lal Chand of Rohtak, Khan Bahadur Sayid Shah of Gojra, Major Malik Sir Umar Hayat Khan Tiwana of Kalra, Sardar Raghbir Singh Sindhawalia of Raja Sansi, Amritsar, all of them leading notables in their respective localities.

In Punjab, the ultimate responsibility and direction of the recruiting campaign rested with the Provincial Recruitment Board. After receiving its due Quota from the central recruiting board in Delhi, in turn, decided how the load should be shared amongst the district of the province and subsequently fixed the recruitment quota for the various districts in the province. The onus for meeting the quota then fell on local district officials. While the board at Lahore directed the province-wide campaign recruiting activities at the district level revolved around the deputy commissioners, who coordinated all such activates in their respective districts. The responsibility for getting the required numbers of men was placed squarely on the shoulders of the local officials, and every level of the district official, from the tehsildar to the village headman, was enlisted for the mobilization campaign. At a Recruiting Board meeting in July 1917, it was decided that the land revenue rules should be amended to make recruiting part of the duties of the village revenue officials. The entire revenue administration of the district was thus mobilized. The Tehsildar, Zaildar beneath him, and sufed poshes who assisted the Zaildar in the basic duties of revenue administration and Lambardars, the village headmen were all expected to put the recruitment, at the top of their priorities.

Some DC’s fixed quotas for each Zaildar & Sufed Posh to fill in periodically. In Ludhiana district, the Zaildar and Lambardars are expected to produce two recruits per month, while Sufed Poshes need to produce one per month.

The decision to includes lower echelon Indian officials and semi-officials was designed to enlist local influence to stimulate the recruitment process. Many of these lower echelon posts where filled by “the natural leaders” of rural society who were co-opted into the administrative structure by British.

By using their local influence, these intermediaries of the state were not only able to force reluctant recruits to come forward for enlistment but could ensure that resentment against enlistment was contained and should not develop into social unrest.

The emphasis placed upon their recruitment effort was such that local revenue official knew that they worked under the threat of dismissal if their efforts did not live up to what was required of them. They were reminded that the main reason for “their enjoying emoluments and land grants from the government was their claim that they were men of real influence in the countryside”, on whom the government could rely in times of need. In Ludhiana district, four Zaildar and two Sufed Poshes were dismissed for laziness and lack of interest in recruiting.

Local leaders, officials and no officials, not only functioned as individual recruiting agents but, under the aegis of DC, they organized themselves into various associations, known variously as war committees, war leagues or war associations to coordinate the process of mobilization. Such committees also served as an important link between the district administration and the local population, particularly crucial in a situation where the province was being hard pressed by the war effort. During the war it was imperative that the administration kept a finger on the pulse of the population; local grievances, if not spotted and rectified early, could lead to widespread discontent, which could prove harmful to province crucial to the war effort.

By 1918 the panchayat in Rohtak had dealt with 14,774 cases involving pension claims, verification rolls and distribution of relief money to the families of soldiers who were injured or killed in battle.

In the middle of 1917 in a desperate measure to raise even more men from the province, the government offered a bonus of fifty rupees to every recruit upon enrolment. The economic advantage of such a scheme, accruing both to those who were prepared to enlist and to their families were powerful incentives for enlistment.

Mobilizing of rural notable through the formation of Punjab Recruitment Board in 1917 proved to be a game changer to make even more men willing to enlist and providing the empire with much-needed men for war.

The success of was the mobilization campaign in the western districts of Punjab owed much to the participation of the Pirs who were sajjad nashins [ custodian of the shrines and the tombs of saints) in the recruitment campaigns. Several of the Pirs were leaders of the sizable following, in some cases as large as 200,000, and exercised substantial political influence in the area around their shrines. When the province was annexed, the British reorganized the political importance of these religious leaders and incorporated them as rural intermediaries. Several Pirs, as a result, served as local officials and were awarded land grants in the canal colonies under the landed gentry scheme, making many of them influential landed magnets in westerns Punjab. Most of them were the leaders of the tribal Muslim population. A prominent example was Pir Gulam Abbas of Makhad, from Attock district, who personally enrolled 4,000 of his followers into the army.

In the Sikh majority districts of central Punjab, few landed gentry families could be found which enjoyed the same degree of political influence as landed magnates of western Punjab. Nevertheless, the state was able to enlist the support of the handful of families, like the Ramgharias, Sindhanwalias, Alhuwalias, Majithias, Bagarians and Bedis, who occupied the position of same standing within the Sikh community by virtue of being descendants of the former Sikh aristocracy.

When O’Dwyer and his govt turned to the rural notables to enlist their support in the mobilization campaign, the later saw in it an opportunity to further entrench their position in the province and almost without exception responded with alacrity and scrambled to furnish men and material for the war effort. They know the rewards for the active cooperation will be substantial. The govt held out promises of generous land grants in the canal colonies, known as Landed Gentry Grants, for notable families who played an active role in recruiting.

The use of rural military elite and the policy of the recruiting through the civil administration could not, however, ensure a limitless supply of men from the province. Their shortcomings were most evident during the last stage of the war. The province, by 1918, had been severely exhausted by the war. The weariness caused by the was further compounded by the outbreak, in late 1917, of the two serious epidemics. Heavy rains in the autumn of 1917 brought two widespread epidemics of malaria in the province. The death toll was high, and the disease afflicted many men of military age, rendering them unfit for military service. No sooner the malaria epidemic subsided than an outbreak of plague swept across parts of the province which claimed many more lives.

By the Feb 1918 despite the full commitment of civil and military to the task of raising more manpower, Punjab seems to have reached its limit.

For year 1918 Govt of Punjab was supposed to get 200,000 more enlist to deal the situation in Europe, to do so O’Dwyer suggested that it can now only be done with some form of compulsory enlistment orders, for which the draft bill was sent to viceroy of Indian and was rejected after consideration and then O’Dwyer again returned back to the local collaborator. Several rural Notable were given additional powers by appointing them as Assistant Recruiting Officers. Even with all this only 77,728 men could be raised, but as the situation was reaching its critical stage towards the end of 1918 the first World War came to an end.

During the war, rural notables played a significant part in bolstering the state structure and generating recruits for the war. Their roles were acknowledged by O’Dwyer who wrote that “the official and rural gentry …. The latter class have shown they are invaluable to the administration in the Punjab”

Managing the "Martial": Control and Concessions

The Sikh community’s martial traditions, fostered by the history, religious doctrines and culture, had been kept alive during British rule by the recruitment policies of the Indian Army, wherein 1920, one in every fourteen adult Sikh in Punjab was in service. This made the community a particularly potent danger if provoked into open rebellion against the authorities, Though the agitation did not eventually amount to mutiny, the alkali unrest could be said to have constituted the most sustained and widespread case of military dissent in British Punjab. The Threat Posed by unrest in the heartland of the Sikh population was not lost on the colonial state; in Feb 1922, at the height of agitation, V.W Smith, a police superintendent of the Punjab criminal Intelligence Department, Noted

"The Akali moment is likely to be a cause of much greater concern and anxiety than the civil disobedience campaign instituted by Mr. Gandhi…. Gandhi’s propaganda makes it appeal to the urban classes, which lack both stamina and physical courage to oppose successfully even a small body of police; the alkali campaign is essentially a rural movement, and its followers are men of fine physique with a national history of which the martial characteristics have been purposely kept alive both by the government and Sikhs themselves."

I am getting it upgraded!
Naunihal Singh,IPS