Kurta Pyjama in Indian Navy

The kurta pyjama is no doubt a smart Indianised attire but it just does not fit the professional requirements of the military.

2 mins read
The Indian Navy has incorporated the traditional kurta-pyjama attire into its naval messes, complying with government directives

The traditional Kurta Pyjama is a chic ensemble in a civilian setting in India but is out of place in a service mess, here’s why-

Multiple media reports indicate that the Indian Navy has allowed officers and sailors to wear ‘kurta-pyjama’ in Naval messes. While code for the dress has been laid out to denote sober colurs and formal shoes or sandals avoiding the slippers, are Crocs which are a cross between a sandal and a slipper permitted one wonders.

There appears to have been a consensus in the commanders of the Navy so it is believed as the dress code was approved after deliberations during the naval commanders’ conference led by Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar. ‘Kurta Pyjama” was also seen as in tune with the national civil dress.

In addition, “government directives aimed at eradicating remnants of the colonial era and fostering indigenous military traditions,” have also been quoted with some even claiming the need to shed a, “slave like mentality”.

It appears that the Indian Navy may have gone overboard to please the hierarchy by blindly adopting a dress code which so far is thankfully restricted to the offices mess.

A military uniform has many functional aspects apart from distinctiveness that it accords to the soldier, sailor and the airmen and the officers.

Only the elite can wear the uniform leading the military to stand out, while a “kurta pyjama” does not distinguish the military from the civilian.

While a differential through dress is not elitocracy but a functional necessity as the arm of the State as a last resort needs to not only act but also be seen as such.

G.P. Krueger a retired Colonel summarises in “Advances in Military Textiles and Personal Equipment” why uniforms distinguish “soldiers and sailors from civilians”.

He adds, “There are many psychological implications of military uniforms, including the importance of style, appearance and color, as well as insignia, decorations, and so on”.

The uniform contributes “to togetherness, orderliness and discipline, and add to the soldiers’ sense of camaraderie, cohesion, and esprit de corps”.

Other aspects are, “practicality, functionality, utility, comfort, and bodily protection, which may affect soldier performance”.

A soldier is forever on parade. Attendance of mess functions is also a parade as officers staying in the designated bachelor quarters unless so permitted by medical authorities cannot dine in the rooms. Married officers attend the mess as a formal function.

Even a mess dress is supposed to enable quick mobilization and shift from the dinner table to the combat frontline.

A mess is not for casual interaction for which military stations have clubs or Defence Services Officers Institute [DSOI] such as the one in Dhaula Kuan Delhi.

To the best of knowledge, a kurta pyjama is not permitted in the club or DSOI, by setting the norms for use of the same in the Mess, the Navy is far exceeding the professional code of dress of the military nurtured over the decades if not centuries.

The kurta pyjama is no doubt a smart Indianised attire but it just does not fit the professional requirements of the military.

Honouring Military Legacy

An attendent issue is honouring military legacy of the past.

The Indian Armed forces have distinguished themselves on modern  battlefields  far and wide from East and North Africa to Europe and South East Asian fronts over two World Wars, in multiple national conflicts and today across continents in UN Peacekeeping missions.

The Indian Armed Forces did not fight in these wars with a slave like mentality but the finest quality of soldiering – battlefield discipline by a volunteer army which has been acknowledged through multiple battle honours and awards of bravery. These cannot be dismissed perfunctorily.

To shed the practices of the past and embrace the new is an eternal process of change, but discretion in ensuring that these are tuned to professional requirements is essential rather than being carried away by flavour of the day.

The Navy has put the stately Kurta Pyjama into an unnecessary controversy by adopting it where it is inappropriate keeping in view professional norms and “service culture.”

Rahul K Bhonsle

Brigadier (Retired) Rahul K Bhonsle, MSc, MPhil, MBA is an Indian army military veteran with 30 years active field experience in counter militancy and terrorism operations. He is presently Director of Sasia Security-Risks.com, a South Asian security risk and knowledge management consultancy which specializes in future scenarios, military capacity building and conflict trends in South Asia.

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