Indian Army recruits ‘religious teachers’ to help soldiers battle stress

The Institute of National Integration has trained over 7,000 religious teachers since 1985

Religious Teacher
Image Courtesy:

A batch of 30 recruit religious teachers (RRTs) were commissioned as Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) on Saturday after a passing out parade was held at the Institute of National Integration (INI), reported The Indian Express.

Brigadier Samir Salunke, Commandant of the Institute, reviewed the parade and congratulated the commissioned JCOs for the successful completion of the pre-commissioning training that incorporates subjects related to national integration, behaviour and social sciences, spiritualism, yoga, psychological counseling and stress management.

The RRTs passing out from INI were considered ready to perform their duties of ‘dharma guru’ and shoulder additional responsibilities of psychological counselors and mental health mentors in stress-related environmental dynamics across the varied, harsh terrain along the northern and eastern borders. The RRTs who are inducted as JCOs with designations like pandits, maulvis, priests, monks or granthis, play a very important role in building up morale and motivation among troops and their families, Salunke said.

A report by Amit Ahuja, Faculty UC Santa Barbara says that armies in secular states provide for the spiritual needs of their soldiers. The Indian Army, however, goes to great lengths to accommodate religion and uses it instrumentally to motivate its ranks. The army maintains places of worship (Sarva Dharma Sthal) on its bases and provides a religious teacher – a pandit, granthi, maulvi, priest, or monk – for every 1,000 soldiers (a battalion). This teacher remains with the unit during regular operations and accompanies it to forward areas of battle. Army grooming and uniform regulations allow Sikhs to wear turbans, Muslims and Sikhs to keep beards, and Hindus to wear sacred threads.

In keeping with its secular approach, the army insists on interfaith respect. Criticism of faiths or religious practices is viewed as detrimental to troop discipline and is punished. More important, the large numbers of religious teachers recruited into the army are required to undergo a year-long training program together at the Institute for National Integration, irrespective of their faith. The program is directed at making the religious teachers aware of the need for religious harmony and fostering a spirit of cooperation. These religious teachers are required to abide by army rules at all times and to adhere to the same command structure as other soldiers.

Sabrang India spoke to an Army Colonel who said that the model of recruiting religious teachers in the Indian Army was unique. He said that since the regiments held troops from different faiths, it was seen to it that each battalion have religious teachers of different faiths too. He confirmed that the role of the RTs went beyond just teaching about spiritualism and religious texts. They played the role of counsellors, talking to troops as friends and making them comfortable rather than have a formal relationship with them.

He also mentioned that they were recruited after a strict qualification check and a written test followed by an interview. The RTs were also given basic army training and if the situation demanded would have to act as a part of the troops of the army.

Institute of National Integration

The Institute of National Integration (INI) was born out of the need felt by the erstwhile Chief of Army Staff, General OP Malhotra in 1980, in a bid to further the values of secularism and national integration that already existed in the service.



With the support of then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the Institute of National Integration came to fruition in 1985. The primary aim of the institute was to train in national integration, subsequently including the responsibility of training religious teachers of the army and Territorial Army (recruits and refresher training), training in Behavioural and Social Sciences for selected personnel and setting of question papers for recruitment & promotional of Religious Teachers, Punekar News reported.

The main areas that the INI concentrates on are:

(a)   Soldierly qualities, secularism: Psychological, security & health counselling.

(b)  Knowledge of other religions and working in a mixed environment.

(c) Psychological aspects and underpinnings of military behaviour and counselling.

Students make visits to various religious, social and other places of importance to gain a better and more balanced world view. These range from the Moral Rearmament Centre at Panchgani, to Aga Khan Palace and Paraplegic Home amongst others. Visits to nearby military establishment including the National Defence Academy, College of Military Engineering Museum and rowing node have also been formalized.

Duties and Educational Qualifications

When the Indian Army put out its post for the recruitment of Religious Teachers (RTs), the duties and educational qualifications for the same were listed as follows.

Duties – The duties of selected candidates in Indian Army Recruitment 2018 include attending funerals, ministering to the sick in hospitals, reading prayers with the convalescents, visiting soldiers undergoing sentence.

It also includes giving special religious instructions to the children and enlisted boys besides attending generally to the religious institutions and welfare of the Officers, Soldiers and their families.

Educational qualifications

Pandit: Hindu candidates with Acharya in Sanskrit or Shastri in Sanskrit with a one-year diploma in ‘Karam Kand’

Granthi: Sikh Candidates with Gyani in Punjabi

Maulvi (Sunni and Shia): Muslims candidates with Maulvi Alim in Arabic or Adib Alim in Urdu

Padre: Christian Candidates who have been ordained priesthood by the appropriate ecclesiastical authority and is still on the approved list of the local Bishop

Bodh Monk (Mahayaana): Buddhist (Mahayana) candidates have been ordained Monk/Buddhist Priest by the appropriate authority

RTs to tackle suicides

The army has now roped in RTs at the battalion level (800 to 1000 soldiers) in a bid to tackle instances of suicides among lower rank army personnel. Records reveal that as many as 326 soldiers, mainly in the level of other ranks (ORs) and JCOs, committed suicide between 2014 and 2017.

“We have introduced various military psychology-related subjects such as battle and loneliness stress management, depression and alcoholism among others in the training module. Expert doctors and specialised psychologists conduct lectures on these subjects here. Our teachers interact with soldiers undergoing treatment in the psychology ward of the Military Hospital (MH), Kirkee”, Brigadier Salunke, told The Times of India.

“These teachers will not be mere ‘men of rituals’ but also play a dominant role in boosting morale and helping in developing unit cohesion, which is the most important battle-winning factor”, he added.

Former Army Chief General VP Malik (retired) has also welcomed the move, terming it as a ‘progressive step’.

The INI trains approximately 300 personnel every year and has trained over 7,000 religious teachers till now. In a recent addition to the training at the institute, teachers are also being trained in family counselling of the soldiers, who face domestic issues.

Though the decision to include religious teachers in the Army is viewed as one in the right direction by many, one must question whether the RTs who have such an important job of counselling soldiers can only rely on their religious knowledge to help the affected personnel. Shouldn’t the Army make it mandatory for religious teachers to also possess proper educational qualifications in subjects like Psychology to enhance the effect of their teachings?

Religious teachers in armies around the world

The Gurkha brigade in Nepal employed three Hindu religious teachers in a civilian capacity, and unlike Christian or Jewish chaplains, they held no ranks in the Army. Apart from spiritual teachings, they mediated between the British Army and the Gurkhas. The British Army had Hindu religious teachers take courses on counselling and other matters like chaplains.

On July 21, 2009 President Dmitry Medvedev announced the introduction of Orthodox chaplains in the Russian armed forces, a clear victory for the Orthodox Church, which had long sought to establish an official presence in the nation’s military.

In the United Kingdom, Commissioned Armed Forces Chaplains, both full-time and Reservist, are currently drawn from the main Christian denominations to which the majority of Service personnel belong. They have a responsibility to provide spiritual and pastoral care for all Service personnel and their families, both for those within their own denomination and faith and for those who profess no religious affiliation. Additionally there are civilian, part-time, Officiating Chaplains to the Military (OCM), who provide support on a local level. The Armed Forces have appointed external religious leaders from the Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths, to advise on matters specific to those faith groups.

In the book, Military Chaplains in Afghanistan, Iraq and Beyond, author Eric Patterson writes that an American military chaplain, like those in other Western militaries, is a trained religious professional who is also commissioned as a military officer, with their work being in two key areas, religious-leader engagement and religious advisement.

The role of religious teachers in the army has evolved with the ages. From humble beginnings as just spiritual leaders, they are now face the task of assisting with multiple demands, right from spiritual intelligence to care-giving and counselling.

Alos Read

‘Political conspiracy’ to isolate Dalits amidst failure of campaign to annihilate caste
Four Muslim youths booked for their opinion on Ayodhya Verdict; one had asked for judicial review
In MP, Police Imprison Victims Of Cow-Related Attack, Attackers Free



Related Articles