India: Annual recruitment drive highlights "poverty draft"

India boasts the third largest armed forces in the world, with 1,3 million active troops in the Indian Army alone. While recruitment is voluntary, the economical situation in the country - with more than a quarter of the population officially living under the poverty line - guarantees a high number of potential recruits.

According to information provided by the Indian Army, an infantry private (sepoy) receives a starting salary of between Rs. 3050 and Rs. 4650 (80-120 US$).

The main recruitment method are so-called "recruitment rallies", held regularly at different cities - recently in Anantnag, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Kashmir's main city of Srinagar. In a state where an armed conflicts threatens those willing to join India's Armed Forces, desperation is an even greater force to make people join. "Unemployment is a big problem. Kashmiris are desperate -- taking up whatever opportunities come their way," said Ghulam Hassan Mir, a senior leader with the pro-India ruling People's Democratic Party, according to a report in The Economic Times.

Twenty-one-year-old Ghulam Ahmed said he had no option but to join the army to support his three sisters and mother after a road accident killed his father. "I've no job and this recruitment rally has given me hope," Ahmed said, struggling to recover his breath after being put through a gruelling physical endurance test by recruiters.

According to the Annual Report of the Indian Ministry of Defence, "there are eleven Zonal Recruiting Offices, two Gorkha Recruiting Depots and One Independent Recruiting Office in addition to 47 Regimental Centres which carry out recruitment through rallies in their respective areas of jurisdiction. Efforts are made so that each district of the country is covered by recruitment rallies at least once in a recruitment year. During the recruiting year 2005-06, the recruiting organisation has enrolled 27911 recruits for the Army."

Similar to other countries, India too maintains a National Cadet Corps, covering 8410 schools and 5251 colleges in almost all districts of the country. In total, 1,3 million Indian youth participate in Cadet Corps.

The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers reported in 2004 that joining the Indian Armed Forces is possible from 16 years on. Presently, the website of the Indian Army gives 17 1/2 years as minimum age for certain ranks and professions.

However, while there is no shortage of recruits for non-officer rank, the Indian Army faces a shortage of officers. According to official information, there is a shortage of 11,371 officers in the Army which is mainly in the ranks of Lieutenant Colonel and below.

Sources: The Economic Times, 6 January 2008, The Hindu (Tamil Nadu edition), 9 December 2007, The Hindu (Andhra Pradesh edition), 5 January 2008, Indian Ministry of Defence: Annual Report 2006-2007, Official Indian Army website (accessed 7 January 2008), india-defence.com, 21 November 2007