With regard to recruitment to British Indian armed forces, it would be worthwhile to trace the mischief caused by the colonial military policymakers who, in the post-1857 revolt, formulated lists of characteristics, which allegedly separated one community from another, for the purpose of identifying so-called ‘martial races’ from which Indian soldiers could be recruited.
While reorganizing the Indian army in the post-1857 revolt, the Jonathan Peel Commission had the task of identifying social groups and regions from which ‘loyal’ soldiers could be recruited. The principle it emphasized was that the native army should be composed of different nationalities and castes and mixed promiscuously through each regiment.
Recruiting of soldiers was seen more in terms of the communities to which they belonged rather than as individuals. Caste, religion and ethnicity or race became more crucial while enlisting a soldier. Greater Punjab now became a major catchment area for the Bengal Army. By late 1870s, the Bombay Army and Madras Army began to be looked upon as being definitely inferior to the Bengal Army.
The Commission set up in 1879, under the chairmanship of Ashley Eden, reconfirmed the policy enunciated by the Peel Commission. During the 1880s, a novel doctrine was spelt out, which divided Indian society into two broad categories, namely, martial and non-martial.
The term ‘race’ was used in the sense of a well-defined group that had several common physical features.