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Explained: Why Army doesn’t want police, paramilitary forces copying its ‘combat’ uniform

On February 23, following violent clashes between pro- and anti-CAA groups in Northeast Delhi’s Jafrabad, pictures emerged of security forces personnel wearing combat pattern uniforms closely resembling that of the Indian Army’s.

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
Updated: February 27, 2020 10:38:36 am
Explained: Why Army doesn't want police, paramilitary forces copying its 'combat' uniform Riot affected area East Delhi Maujpur and Jafrabad Road on Teusday in New Delhi Express Photo By Amit Mehra 25 Feb 2020

The Army has asked the Ministries of Defence and Home Affairs to issue guidelines to ensure that state police forces and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) do not wear the ‘disruptive pattern’ uniform, commonly referred to as ‘combat uniform’, while on law and order duties such as mob control and anti-riot measures.

Why has the Army sought these guidelines?

On February 23, following violent clashes between pro- and anti-CAA groups in Northeast Delhi’s Jafrabad, pictures emerged of security forces personnel wearing combat pattern uniforms closely resembling that of the Indian Army’s, being deployed in the area. As the pictures and videos went viral on social media — some were posted on Twitter by the news agency ANI — word spread that the Army had been called out in the area.

That evening, ANI, quoting “Indian Army sources”, tweeted that the Army would “take action against state police forces and private security agencies wearing military camouflage uniform”, because “there are policy guidelines which prohibit paramilitary and state police forces from wearing uniforms donned by the military”. (Some users on social media had pointed out that security guards at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia too, wore Army pattern uniforms.)

The following day, the Army issued a statement on its official Twitter handle clarifying that it “wasn’t deployed for Internal Security Duties”. The Army also wrote formally to the government, saying “combat dress should not be worn” by paramilitary forces “while being employed to handle law & order situations as also while being deployed in urban areas affected by terrorism, as the surroundings do not demand such a requirement”.

The Army said that “use of distinctly different (both in colour and pattern) disruptive dress by CAPFs and State Police forces should be restricted only to employment in jungle terrain in Left Wing Extremism affected areas”. Also, the “sale of Army pattern clothes in the open market needs to be regulated”.

Has the Army expressed these concerns earlier?

Yes. The Army has made this request repeatedly over the past several years, as more and more CAPF and state police forces personnel have begun to wear the combat pattern uniform during riot-control duties. Some CAPFs have even copied routine uniform items of the Army’s senior ranks such as stars on collar tabs. While the patterns on the uniforms have sometimes been slightly different from the Army’s, the Army has argued that the average citizen is unable to distinguish between them — and an erroneous impression is created that the Army has been deployed.

The issue was discussed in the government in 2004, 2012, 2013, and 2015 — to no avail. In 2016, Army personnel conducting flag marches in Haryana during the Jat agitation were forced to carry signs saying ‘ARMY’ in bold letters to announce their presence. That same year, after terrorists wearing combat pattern uniforms attacked the Pathankot air base, the Army issued directions in the border areas of Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir saying it was illegal to sell such patterned cloth in markets.

What are the rules on wearing such uniforms?

Section 171 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“Wearing garb or carrying token used by public servant with fraudulent intent”) says: “Whoever, not belonging to a certain class of public servants, wears any garb or carries any token resembling any garb or token used by that class of public servants, with the intention that it may be believed, or with the knowledge that it is likely to be believed, that he belongs to that class of public servants, shall be punished with imprisonment of either descrip­tion for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees, or with both.”

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Also, Section 21 of The Private Security Agencies (Regulation) Act, 2005 (“Penalty for unauthorised use of certain uniforms”) says: “If any private security guard or supervisor wears the uniform of the Army, Air Force, Navy or any other armed forces of the Union or Police or any dress having the appearance or bearing any of the distinctive marks of that uniform, he and the proprietor of the private security agency shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to five thousand rupees, or with both.”

When did the Army adopt the combat uniform?

Before 1947, the Indian Army had only one type of khaki uniform. Independent India adopted as the Army’s uniform the olive green that its soldiers fighting in the jungles of the Northeast and Burma during World War II wore. Disruptive pattern ‘combat’ uniforms — worn by the German Waffen-SS and Luftwaffe in the War’s European theatre and by US Marines in the Pacific theatre — were introduced in the Indian Army in the late eighties, when the Indian Peacekeeping Force went to fight the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the jungles of northern Sri Lanka.
The pattern of the camouflage was revised in 2005, when Gen J J Singh was the Army Chief. Gen Singh also introduced a watermark on the uniform in the shape of the Army emblem of crossed swords, and the words ‘Indian Army’, in a bid to discourage police forces from copying it.

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