A proposal by the Defence Institute of Physiology & Allied Sciences to allocate rations to personnel of the three defence services on the basis of their regional background sounds dubious and is too far-fetched. What one understands from the initial reports is that soldiers should be provided rations depending on their food habits to cater to their physiological make-up. For example, the diet of a Punjabi or Haryanvi soldier should have a preponderance of wheat and maize.
Similarly, those from other states should be supplied food they were used to before they enrolled. Efforts should be made to have about two dozen nutritional packages for troops.
For a layman, the proposal seems logical and well-intentioned. But for anybody who understands the functioning of our armed forces it appears to be impractical. Such a proposal, if floated four decades ago, would have found some acceptability. To give the devil his due, till almost 20 years after independence the armed forces followed “caste” compositions. However, the class composition in some combat support units and all supporting services was mixed.
Forces do not fight battles in isolation. There are cross attachments, regroupings and specialist task oriented missions. For example, a combat group may comprise soldiers from different states.
Come to think of it, the administrative hassles of cooking different meals aside, supplying specific rations to cater to regional palates in the war zone is a recipe for disaster.
Now, the massive expansion and modernisation of India’s armed forces and the requirement to be skilled has precluded the need to maintain tailor-made exclusive class composed units. Realism and practicability ushered in an era of mixed class composite units, even in combat units. To attain better synergy, cross attachments, specialist units and increased deputations have diluted the “caste” and regional homogeneity of troops.
I commanded a unit of mixed class composition with soldiers from a dozen states who all dined in one cookhouse. The cosmopolitan culture of the armed forces translates beautifully into eating habits. A soldier who joins service between the 18-24 age group can adapt to a variety of eating habits. The proposal in question, therefore, may cost the armed forces their homogeneity, camaraderie,versatility and battle worthiness. Most of us will agree not only is it unacceptable but also virtually impossible to implement.
(The views expressed are personal)