Explained: Why the Ahir community is demanding a separate regiment in the Indian Army

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People travelling on the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway will have a tough time — traffic jams and diversions — owing to the Ahir community staging a protest at Kherki Daula toll plaza on National Highway 48 (NH-48) to press for their demand for a separate regiment in the Indian Army.

In light of the nine-hour protest, the Gurugram traffic police has issued a traffic advisory, stating that the entire 14.8 km section of NH-48 will be closed for traffic from 8 am to 5 pm on Friday.

In its advisory, the authorities said on Thursday, “The traffic flow may get affected tomorrow in the wake of Ahir regiment demand protest near Kherki Daula toll. Therefore, all commuters and travellers are requested to follow alternative routes for tomorrow.”

“Those coming from Jaipur to Delhi may take diversion from Pachgaon and follow KMP for Delhi and other areas. Those commuting from Manesar to Gurugram or Delhi may follow U-turn from Givo cut near Kherki Daula toll and take SPR to Golf course extension route. Those travelling from Gurugram or Delhi to Jaipur may take a diversion route from Rajiv chowk to Sohna and then KMP route. Similarly, those commuting from Gurugram to Jaipur may take a diversion from Hero Honda chowk to Pataudi road and then further,” it read further.

As commuters gear up for a rough day, we try to understand what are the demands of the people who are protesting, what support have they garnered and a clear understanding of the history behind the caste-based regiments in the Indian Army.

What is the Ahir Regiment and the people behind it?

The demand for the Ahir Regiment is not a new one.

The people of South Haryana, popularly known as the Ahirwal region, have long been demanding for a separate regiment within the Indian Army.

In 2018, under the aegis of the 'Sanyukt Ahir Regiment Morcha', the group comprising of people from the Ahir community had staged a hunger strike for nine days for their demands to be met. The agitation had ended when they had received assurances from politicians that their demand for an Ahir Regiment would be looked into.

Social activist Pravin Ram, who belongs to the Ahir community, had told Indian Express in 2018 that the demand for an Ahir Regiment was a legitimate one and that the history of the Indian Army is full of valour of the Ahir community and Battle of Rezang La with Chinese troops in 1962 is a golden example of the same.

In the battle of Rezang La in 1962, out of 120 casualties, 114 were Ahirs.

The members of the 'Sanyukt Ahir Regiment Morcha' also sat on an indefinite protest near Kherki Daula toll plaza in Gurgaon on 4 February. They had also held a similar protest in March, demanding for a separate regiment.

Arun Yadav, a member of the United Ahir Regimental Morcha, said that the demand for a separate Ahir regiment was a long-standing demand of the community.

"For over 70 years, the community has made sacrifices for the country in more ways than one. Ahirs have a large representation in the Army. As there is a separate caste-based regiment for Sikhs, Gorkhas, Jats, Garhwal, Rajputs, we demand the formation of the Ahir Regiment," Indian Express reported.

Support swells

The demand for the Ahir Regiment has been supported by several politicians and political leaders across parties.

In 2018, former Samajwadi Party (SP) MP Akshoy Pratap Yadav's wife Raj Lakshmi Yadav took to the Twitter to demand and justify an 'Ahir' regiment in the Army.

"It is not casteism to demand Ahir regiment... there are many regiments in the Army which are named after castes like Rajput, Dogra, Jat, Gorkha etc," she said, adding, "Either disband all such regiments or give us Ahir regiment."

Union Minister of State Rao Inderjit Singh had recently backed the support of the 'Ahir Regiment'.

"I fully support the demand of an Ahir Regiment in the Army. I have written to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and also met him regarding this demand. I will continue to raise this issue in future," said Singh as he met the protesters and offered support.

Manoj Jha of the RJD had also raised this issue in Parliament during the ongoing Budget Session.

Congress MP Deepender Hooda has also supported the demand for setting up an Ahir regiment in the Indian Army. On 19 March, he visited the protesters at the Kherki Daula toll on the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway and said, "Yaduvanshis have a deep connection with both plough and arms. Their valour needs no introduction. It is time now that an Ahir regiment is established to give them due recognition."

Caste-based regiments in Army

Caste-based regiments in the Indian Army came into being during the British era and was further expanded upon after the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny.

The Jonathan Peel Commission was tasked to identify social groups and regions to recruit loyal soldiers. Since the revolt was from eastern and southern parts of India, the British government didn't recruit them in the Army and changed the centre of recruitment to northern India.

However, independent India continued the caste and region-based regiments due to their history and ethos.

As of today, the Indian Army has caste-based regiments — the Jat, Sikh, Rajput, Dogra, Mahar, JAK Rifles, Sikh Light Infantry.

However, it is incorrect to say that the Indian Army is based on caste. Even in the specific regiments, it is important to note that only personnel from other ranks are recruited on a laid down structure but officers are not.

The Army has defended this practice. Major General Ashok Mehta (retired), a prolific writer on military matters who spent most of his service years with a Gurkha regiment, in a report to DNA said, “It is a good system; why try and tamper with it. The primary motive for a soldier to fight is his paltan ka izzat (platoon's honour), and that comes about from his sense of identity, belonging and honour.”

In the case of the Ahir Regiment, the demand hasn’t been met as the authorities contend that Ahirs are already present in the Army in good numbers and they have fought some of the most glorious battles for the Army.

Echoing the same sentiments, an author in a Medium article titled ‘XLVII: An Ahir Regiment, Seriously?’ says that Ahirs are already eligible for recruitment in multiple Indian Army regiments. Also, the community has served within these regiments for over two centuries. The Ahirs, who largely self-recognise as Yadavs, can serve in Kumaon, J&K Rifles, Punjab, Rajputana, and Jat Regiments depending on the region they come from.

He adds that the Ahirs are very much a part of the mainstream and the creation of an Ahir Regiment would serve no wider political purpose.

With inputs from agencies

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Explained: Why the Ahir community is demanding a separate regiment in the Indian Army
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