“Wars have been fought, technical developments have taken place, missiles and nuclear warheads have changed the very complexion of warfare, so that our survival has become a problem. But for us soldiers one thing has remained unchanged, one thing for us soldiers has remained fixed and unchanging.  Our task today is the same as it has always been. And what is our task? Our task is to fight to win wars, to defeat the enemy. If you lose, the nation is destroyed.”

Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw
Address to passing Out Officers
Indian Military Academy 14 Jun 69


    India has a multitude of values, cultures, beliefs and attitudes. It has over eight hundred linguistic and 560 ethnic groups of different races, religions, castes and tribes. Yet the country is a model of true unity in diversity. The people of India are strongly united on issues of nationhood but emotional bonding and integration are yet to be cemented. People also maintain strong personal and social identities on different pretexts. This distinct identity makes any ethnic group different from one another.

    India formally became a nation state in 1947. Till then India was a loose confederation of smaller princely states joined by a similarity of social and cultural customs and practices. Indian culture has continuously been affected by a series of invasions, the last one being the British. In its history there have always been periods of ferment to which India reacted subconsciously, absorbing new elements and changing in the process. These influences percolated through all aspects of culture including language, religion and traditions resulting in a situation where different groups co-existed in mutual harmony despite the differences of language and religion. In spite of all these invasions and modifications, the evolution of Indian society and culture has continued its course along with the march of time.

The National Human Resource 

    The Indian economy has been steadily rising. However, this rise has been more in the service than the manufacturing sectors hence not increasing employment avenues at the grassroots level. In addition, a govt job has been the dream of most of the masses, as it provides a number of benefits.  Therefore, at first glance, it would seem that the armed forces with their comparative job security would be a lucrative career. However, the same is not so. Police, other central and state government agencies and the paramilitary forces are preferred. Amongst the educated or even semi skilled, as all surveys have shown, the army is way down in their preference for a career. 

    Healthy, dedicated boys with a rural agrarian background wanting to serve their nation are a thing of the past. Unemployment, breaking up of the joint family and higher economic aspirations has together combined to push more individuals to the towns. These are the families which are now a major source of manpower for the nation. In general, they are physically softer, more literate, rights conscious and protest oriented.  They exhibit a sense of confidence borne from education, skills and knowledge. They are more demanding and easily disillusioned. This is the pool that forms the basis for all agencies to develop for their respective goals and tasks. As far as the officer cadre are concerned the armed forces do not even figure in the list of choices as a career. 

    Field Marshall Sir William Slim wrote in 1943 during the Burma Campaign, “My Indian divisions are amongst the best in the world. They will go anywhere, do anything, go on doing it and do it on very little?”

    Yet it is with this human resource that the armed forces have always achieved a far greater sense of cohesion and results than any other organization. This has been possible because of a variety of reasons, however, primary being the impact of Culture, Value and Ethics. This is discussed in this paper.



    Values can be considered as something that is important to or valued by someone. They are central to any nation or organization. They determine what is right and what is wrong and evolve over a period of time. Indian ethics, on the other hand, have been philosophical from the start. In the oldest of the Indian writings, the Vedas, ethics are an integral aspect of philosophical and religious speculation about the nature of reality. These writings date from about 1500 BC. The middle class in India have been the real bearers of moral and ethical values. 

    Basically organization culture is indicative of the personality of the organization. There is no single definition for organizational culture. It is created, maintained, or transformed by people. An organization’s culture is, in part, also created and maintained by the organization’s leadership. Leaders at the executive level are the principle source for the generation and re-infusion of an organization’s ideology, articulation of core values and specification of norms. Organizational values express preferences for certain behaviours or certain outcomes. Organizational norms express behaviours accepted by others. They are culturally acceptable ways of pursuing goals. Leaders also establish the parameters for formal lines of communication and message content-the formal interaction rules for the organization. Values and norms, once transmitted through the organization, establish the permanence of the organization’s culture. 

Role of the Armed Forces

    The primary role of the Armed forces is to defend the nation against external aggression but of late in India, this has taken lower priority over ‘aid to civil authority’ in various forms, including the proxy war in Kashmir. The military has been an arm of the state, created specifically to pursue the purpose of the nation, to defend it from potential enemies. From this larger purpose flows the immense and awesome responsibility of leading men into battle and of ultimate sacrifice. 

    It is this that makes society view the military profession as a final reservoir of its most precious human values. Thus the army as a profession is clearly amongst the most noble, as its function involves preservation of the highest human values, collectively referred to as the nation’s way of life. This is why whenever an incident of incorrect or unacceptable behaviour affects the armed forces the nation looks at it as a matter of shame. The military ethic foremost accepts the supremacy of the nation state. The military exists for the survival and well being of the state and not vice versa. In an ideal state, the military is the most noble of the professions as “its function involves the preservation of our highest human values, collectively referred to as our way of life.”

Armed Forces Values and Ethics

    Each nation has its own tradition and values built up over the centuries. One of the most important and all pervading concepts of moral values in all of the Orient is the concept of ‘Namak’ or salt. One is simply expected to be faithful to the person whose salt one has eaten. There are numerous examples in history where a soldier or a prince, once having accepted to serve a king, would do so irrespective of his own feelings, faith and at the risk of his life. Philip Mason writes: “Combination of loyalty and expectation was strong in the Indian Army. The recruit brought it with him from the village and gave his allegiance to the regiment, to the army, perhaps specially to a single officer; perhaps to all officers of the regiment… it was something officers and men both understood without words. It was knit them in a close bond, from which the rest of the world excluded.” 

    Indian armed forces have an alien culture, which is not understood by the large majority of Indian citizens. According to Peter Stephen Rosen, ‘The Indian army after independence did not develop a unique Hindu culture…Instead, it elected to continue to follow the British way of life which appears absurd to anyone from outside the army.’ Our morals, ethics and value systems are derived from our traditions and rich heritage. The British created the modern Indian Army “based on the concept of honour – the honour of the regiment and of the ‘class’ and of the personal honour of a man who must respect himself and stand in honour before his comrades in the village and the Army.” Janowitz states that ‘honour’ is the basis of the military’s belief system. 

Impact of Values and Ethics

    On the face of it, almost everything about the organisation and structure of the Indian Army militates against the possibility of such greatness. The salaries are low, the hardships immense; units comprising pure Sikh or Jat troops may be led by Tamilian and Assamese officers or vice a versa; the life style of the leaders and the led are widely different – and yet in peace they serve each other with loyalty and in battle lay down their lives for one another. Why? 

    This question cannot be answered so simply. No one is more aware than the professional soldier that the normal man is no hero. The military, however, organizes and conditions men so that they can overcome only because the Army has been nurtured on the core values for many years and because it has been led at the functional level by officers of character, of strong moral and ethical standing-a direct outcome of which is the spirit, the loyalty, the camaraderie, the pride and selflessness that the men imbibe and develop while in service to the nation. A soldier, and particularly an Indian one, is willing to face any hardship or deprivation and even pay the supreme sacrifice in battle primarily for the officer he regards and for his comrades-in-arms. The quality of leadership, mainly at the functional level, its character and its moral strength, thus assume immense importance in the Army. Wherever this leadership is non existent or low the results will be poor and operations a failure.

    A brief summary our Indian and military values and ethics as well as those of other countries is as given below:-

RankAmericaAustraliaIsraelCanadaIndiaIndian army
1FreedomWisdomA world at peaceFreedomA sense of accomplish-mentSelfRespect
2HappinessTrueFriendshipNationalSecurityHappinessAn exciting lifeHappiness
3WisdomFreedomHappinessMatureLoveFreedomA sense of accomplishment
4SelfRespectA sense ofAccomplish-mentFreedomSelfRespectSelf respectFreedom
5A sense of accomplish-mentMatureLoveMatureLoveTrueFriend-ShipFamily securityWisdom
6Mature loveSelfRespectWisdomInnerHarmonyMature loveFamilySecurity

    The relevance of the Army’s values, for example, is apparent. When soldiers may be called upon to expose themselves to mortal danger in the performance of their duty, they must be absolutely able to trust their fellow soldiers (to do their fair share and to help in the event of need) and their leaders (to guard them from unnecessary risk). So the Army’s values prescribe conditions that facilitate trust, a necessary element in willingness to face danger. Without trust, risk tolerance will be low, as will combat effectiveness. Other highly respected traditional values are ‘Izzat’ and ‘Vachan’, roughly translated as ‘honour’ and ‘word of honour’. Personal honour relates to self-esteem, élan, personal ‘Izzat’ and self-respect in an individual. A highly developed sense of personal honour born out of self respect is the most relevant and essential element in soldiering and leadership. Honour is the most enduring of all values and “is often what remains after faith, love and hope are lost.” Military honour is both a means and an end. The code of honour specifies how an officer ought to behave, but to be “honourable” is an objective to be achieved for its own right. When military honour is effective, its coercive power is considerable. 

    In no other walk of life, except the military, is a citizen expected to pay the supreme sacrifice or to put behind him his personal life. “Men work in factories for cash but they do not die for the honour of the factory.” Thus, while military ethics may not be very different from that of other professions, what puts them on a higher plane is that the proving ground is more rugged and the stakes are much higher.

    There is sufficient evidence that in the military, moral values have a much bigger role to play than in most other professions. During battle, or when faced with ethical dilemmas during peace, these values give the officers something to rely on when his perspectives seem to blur, when rules and principles seem to waver, and when he is faced with hard choices of right and wrong. These are something to keep him on the right track, something to keep him afloat when he thinks he is drowning.

Erosion of Values

    The erosion of traditional values from the Indian society has more or less kept pace with the industrial development of the country. Old values of ‘duty, honour and country’ are no more appealing to the younger generation. Therefore, as one commentator has observed, ‘it is doubtful whether in the present day India, patriotism and glory of the service play any great part in attracting good quality youth to join the officer cadre of the army.’

    The degrading standards in present day society has its affects on the Armed Forces, particularly its leadership which is drawn from that same society and is, therefore, as vulnerable as the man next door to the pressures and stresses of everyday life. The military leadership is being increasingly put through, and is expected to respond to, situations that are more extensive, more complex and more demanding than the type of situations which the average citizen is faced with. It is in this belief in values that are being strengthened so that a suitable moral and ethical climate is maintained in the Armed Forces, a climate that will eventually prove to be a battle winning factor.


    The exercise of military leadership especially at the functional level inevitably involves lofty moral and ethical considerations. Not only is the commander expected to carry out the functions of a leader, but he is also expected to perform them in a manner approved by the society. His personal behaviour, his value systems and his moral decisions are an integral part of his role and reflected in the expectations of those he serves. In addition, the status of command confers inescapable moral responsibilities for setting the correct example for the group. Thus, the ethical and moral principles of the commanders are critical to the morale, efficiency and effectiveness of the military and may well tilt the balance between victory and defeat in battle.

    The Armed Forces draw its personnel requirements from the same national pool and from the same environment and societal background as others. Yet it begins with a handicap – increasingly larger numbers joining the Armed forces are the “seventh best” if the available national pool may be classified in twenty categories in descending order based upon levels of intellectual capabilities, education qualification, aspirations, and motivation. On the contrary, the corporate attracts the “first best”. Yet the performace of the same is far better than others. In an interview, General JJ Singh, the then Army Chief stated “The army believes that money cannot bind an individual to an organization. The ethos, work culture and scope to achieve satisfaction are more important.” 

Brig Harsha Kakar, an alumna of NDA was commissioned into the Regiment of Artillery in 1979. The officer is a graduate of LGSC, DSSC and LDMC. He has also attended the National Security Studies Course at the Canadian Forces College, Toronto. He has been the GSO 1 (Ops) of an Infantry Division, DAMS in MS Branch and a Directing Staff at the College of Defence Management. He is presently Commanding an Artillery Brigade.

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