As Dalai Lama said:
The purpose of religion is to control yourself, not criticize others.
Similarly, the purpose of religion in the military of a country is irrelevant. Or, it should be. However, several people use religion as a dart to hit the minds of others.
The US Army recently announced that wearing of turbans, hijabs and other religious attire will be permitted. This milestone judgement, apparently, has come weeks after Indian Air Force, as per the ruling of the Supreme Court, did not permit a Muslim soldier to have a beard.
The Apex Court had ruled:
The appellant having been enrolled as a member of the Indian Air Force was necessarily required to abide by the discipline of the Force. Regulations and policies in regard to personal appearance are not intended to discriminate against religious beliefs nor do they have the effect of doing so. Their object and purpose is to ensure uniformity, cohesiveness, discipline and order which are indispensable to the Air Force, as indeed to every armed force of the Union.
Airman Mohammad Zubair had contended that he has a right to keep a beard as a facet of his fundamental right to freedom of religion while Indian Air Force argued that all Muslims do not carry beard.
The practice of growing and keeping beard is optional and sporting a beard is not universally recognised in the religion of Islam. Therefore, it cannot be said that Muslim religion prohibits the cutting of hair or shaving off the face of its member.
On the other hand, the ruling in the US has been welcomed by religious minorities in the US armed forces. Lt. Col. Randy Taylor issued a statement saying:
Our goal is to balance soldier readiness and safety with the accommodation of our soldiers’ faith practices, and this latest directive allows us to do that.
But the truth can not be further than this. US President-elect Donald Trump had publicly stated his views on Muslims and had gone on to say that he will ban all Muslims from entering the US.
A US Marine of Bosnian origin recounts his journey in the American armed forces. He chose to serve the country that offered him home after he fled his country of birth in 1995. As a way to pay his debt to the US for letting his family and him stay, he decided to join the Marine Corps as an infantryman.
Eight deployments later, US Marine Sgt. Emir Hadzic has now become disturbed of the rising anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.
He says that Trump’s suggestion that Muslims should carry different ID has hurt him deeply and now regrets his decision to support Trump in the Presidential race.
Some other Muslim veterans have spoken on the social media, like Tayyib Rashid – a former Marine. He chose to tweet a photograph of his military ID to show his patriotism to the nation.
— The Muslim Marine (@MuslimMarine) November 19, 2015
There are about 5,900 serving US defence personnel who identify themselves as Muslims. This comprises a mere 0.27 per cent of active and reserve soldiers. In many units, the numbers are in single digits and they serve as the sole representative of their religion in their platoons.
Not only Muslims, Christians too are having a difficult time in the US military. Christians are rapidly leaving the military or are getting discouraged from joining because of the hostile workplace environment that doesn’t let them express their beliefs openly.
That brings us to the apt questions as to what is happening with religion in the Indian Armed Forces?
There are several reasons why Indian soldiers have not been facing similar problems.
- In the army, the infantry regiments majorly comprise of soldiers of the same state, region and/or faith. The officers in the regiment come in from all faiths possible and adopt other religions as well.
- The Indian Armed Forces celebrate all festivals of every religion with equal gusto. Often one can find a Brahmin officer reading Quran, a Sikh soldier taking care of the mandir or can other combination that is unique to India.
- There is no Gurudwara, mosque, temple or church in the forces. It is called ‘Sarv Dharm Sthal’ meaning All Religions Place. This unique name ensures that the place of worship is open to people of all faiths without any bias.
- Right from the training days, it is instilled into the minds of the soldiers that the nation comes first. You may never find a Hindu, a Muslim, a Sikh, a Christian in the forces. They will all declare themselves as Indians first.
- The Constitution and the forces grant a right to enjoyment of personal freedom and religion to all its soldiers.
India had never faced a religion crisis in its military. Being open to all faiths from the beginning and encouraging the soldier to respect everyone has been the best solution.