The Indian Navy is set to replace rank names with Indianised designations as part of a larger drive to jettison colonial military traditions, with gender-neutral changes to the ranks also to be announced shortly, officials confirmed.
Seven ranks in the navy’s personnel below officer rank (PBOR) cadre will be redesignated, including three existing titles that are not gender-neutral. The navy began inducting women as sailors for the first time earlier this year.
The Indianised ranks will be the latest in a series of changes introduced by the navy in the past one year to discard traditions associated with the British empire, including adopting a new ensign, doing away with batons for commanders and allowing traditional Indian wear in officers’ messes.
The ranks that will be made to align with Indian traditions are Master Chief Petty Officer Ist Class, Master Chief Petty Officer IInd Class, Chief Petty Officer, Petty Officer, Leading Seaman, Seaman Ist Class and Seaman IInd Class.
“Indianising ranks for the PBOR cadre was on our to-do list,” an official said. “The existing terms are an embodiment of British traditions. Also, gender-neutral ranks are a must to make the service environment inclusive. The new designations have been sent to the defence ministry for approval, which is expected soon.”
According to internal feedback, ranks with the petty officer nomenclature were particularly disliked by their holders, the official added.
The entry of women into the navy’s PBOR cadre this year under the Agnipath recruitment scheme necessitated the switch to gender-neutral ranks, the officials said. The first batch of Agniveers, including around 270 women, graduated from INS Chilka, and joined service in March.
The Agnipath model seeks to recruit soldiers for four years, with a provision to retain 25% of them in regular service for 15 more years after fresh screening.
Much of the Indianisation began two years ago after PM Modi called for erasing colonial customs and adopting Indian ways in the forces at the Combined Commanders’ Conference at Kevadia in Gujarat. This led the three services to identify customs that seemed not to fit with their culture in the 75th year of the country’s Independence.
The Indianisation has manifested itself in several moves, including the navy adopting a new ensign, with the flag drawing inspiration from the seal of Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and the Cross of St George being dropped. It also ended the practice of senior officers carrying batons. The defence ministry has launched a drive to rename British-era cantonments as military stations.
In a related development, the army recently announced plans to draw on Kautilya’s Arthashastra, Kamandaka’s Nitisara and Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural for lessons on statecraft, strategy, diplomacy and warfare from ancient Indian scriptures. This effort to establish the relevance of these centuries-old strategic doctrines in the 21st century is part of a project named Udbhav.
These moves come against the backdrop of a flurry of efforts by the government to encourage Indianisation in sectors including education, health and science. In his 2022 Independence Day speech, Modi spoke of the “panch pran” or five pledges for India to become a developed country by its 100th year of Independence.
One of those resolutions was to uproot all signs of colonial slavery from mindset and habits.