Colonial ‘myth’ making and the ‘Martial Races’


Heather Streets, author of “Martial Races; the military, race and masculinity in British imperial culture, 1857 – 1914” said,

“…the savage representations of masculinity that lay at the heart of martial race ideology* were a crucial imaginative site upon which Anglo-Indian military elites responded to, and attempted to manipulate, historically specific global-imperial politics after 1850 – particularly with regard to the rebellion of 1857, Russian military expansionism, Indian and Irish nationalism, and recruiting problems in the British Army. Far from being a phenomenon with effects limited to the imperial ‘periphery’, the interventions of these military elites in the popular British media helped bring their racial and gendered constructs before a wide public. …the British Army in India was neither apolitical nor marginal to British culture; rather, its representatives exerted considerable efforts trying to shape the values of Victorian culture. Moreover, their racial and gendered constructions profoundly affected the identities of so-called ‘martial race’ populations in both Britain and India, who both embraced and manipulated their own representations as martial heroes.”

In the context of ‘Indian’ clan or tribal networks, popularly misconstrued as ‘castes’, the martial races included in the main Rajputs, Jats, some Pashtun and Baloch groups, and others. British ethnologists had also considered some Brahman offshoots in the Bengal as martial races, but these groups were demoted because of their involvement in the infamous Indian Mutiny of 1857.

There were of course a variety of other ‘groupings’ clan-based or otherwise that were similarly removed from the martial race typology for political reasons. British ethnologists were the gatekeepers.

Briefly speaking, the martial race ideology ‘is the belief that some groups of men are biologically and culturally predisposed to the arts of war‘. In India although these groups were assumed to have belonged to the warrior caste – kshatriya – within the four-fold ‘Vedic’ caste-system, it was British Officers who engineered the idea to further their colonial agenda. Numerous groups within the wider British Empire were similarly categorised as such, notably the Nepalese Gurkha, the Scottish highland clans, the Zulus of South Africa and the Maori of New Zealand.

I pose the following consideration.

In light of the power-dynamics that have shaped the course of political life in Pakistan and ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir post 1947 where certain clan-networks continue to dominate the political and military order, would it not be in the interests of the ordinary people to expose the perniciousness of the ‘martial race’ ideology? Even as we discuss such issues, Pakistan’s army is comprised of individuals who claim ‘martial race’ backgrounds.

Or is this merely an oversimplification of the many issues currently facing Pakistan?

Caste stratification in Pakistan is very different to its Indian equivalence and in many ways is less rigid. In some parts of rural India, the caste-system has a debilitating effect on those forced to live on the fringe of the respectable ‘castes’. There is no real equivalence between India and Pakistan when we appraise such contrasts, although many ‘upper-caste’ Pakistanis do behave prejudicially with those they think are somehow beneath them because of ‘caste-backgrounds’. These attitudes are on account of not understanding colonial race theorising and the imagined identities that were borne of such a process.

Colonial ideas continue to impact both India and Pakistan.

Please be tempered in your opinions. You can still extend respect and courtesy to those whose views you may not necessarily agree with. Offensive and hate-filled comments are usually reflective of intellectually-challenged people.

Offensive comments will be deleted


This post is part of the Contentions Series. 


  1. The martial race theory has some weight since the most gang like abroad Pakistanis are in Norway and Britain. The Norweigan Pakistanis are mainly Jatt and Gujjars. Even in India, Jaat and gujjars are warlike people also. These people also generally commit more crime too.

    • Well Rawalpindi in Pakistan and Punjab in India should have a higher than average crime rate as these are the places that have a high percentage of “Martial races”. Both places have a below average crime rate compared to other cities and states in their respective country.

  2. Name*

    What’s the point of your irrelevant point? It has no relevance to the post aside from being wrong? Author posing a question about colonial race engineering, and the idea of “martial races”, “Butt” have never been relevant to those discussions???? Have they ????

    Author is debunking “engineered” ideas of controlling people through bad race science.

    I know this because I’ve been reading about all this, it’s good to educate yourself once in a while and not believe everything you read on WIKIPEDIA or SOCIAL MEDIA. I even know how the “Butt” identity emerged in Pakistan Punjab, wrongly conflated with the idea of Kashmiris from Vale, I’m from Jammu Kashmir from the so-called “Azad” bit, so this history matters to me. We still live in Jammu & Kashmir and we’re identified as Kashmiris by “zaat”, so this identity is more meaningful to us, than to outsiders in Lahore or Gujranwala.

    Since you’re lingering under false impressions, about “Butt”, let me educate you.

    The majority of the people in Lahore are not “Butt” in any genuine sense of the term or actual history given how this label was used historically by the authorities not ordinary people. The majority of the people in Gujranwala are not “Butt”. And the majority of the people in Luton, aside from being non-Pakistanis, non-JK people (from Pakistan’s Kashmir) are not Butt either. Even of Luton’s Mirpuris, the majority are not “Butt”. In fact the majority of Indian-administered-Kashmir’s population, in the Vale of Kashmir and outside it, are not Butt either.

    The “Butt” is a label, which has now became a popular surname for people not originally connected with this background that has been used incorrectly and widely for lots of people who don’t have roots in the Valley of Kashmir but neighbouring areas in the wider Jammu & Kashmir State. There are others from Punjab who are not even from the historical Jammu & Kashmir region but they too have become Butts. Lots of people think they know their past, but they don’t, it’s just a fact of history that has become inconvenient for people with their own myths of origin and outlandish claims. Butt means different things to different people, lot’s of people in Gujarat State also use this term and they don’t claim to come from Kashmir. The label Butt like other labels were used decades afterwards, by people who had left the western Himalaya because of famine, and ended up on the Indian Punjab Plains where they were identified as an occupational caste. The COLONIAL CENSUS TAKERS (white people and their Indian Munshis) lumped all these refugee groups together under “Muslim Kashmiri” category (occupational castes). It was just easier to do this for this poor people. They didn’t do this for the tiny minority of Kashmiri HINDU Pandits who were identified a “BRAHMANS” and other caste-related backgrounds. It was the British who started the practise of identifying lots of Jammu & Kashmir’s “hereditary residents” from landless backgrounds in Kashmir and outside Kashmir as Muslim Kashmiris – they lumped all the barbers, tailors, weavers, iron mongers, market gardeners, vegetable growers etc into one group. They didn’t do this for the clans/tribes and higher castes from this region; the ousted Muslim Jagirdar clans (feudatories from the landed backgrounds) from Kashmir who refused to be “subjects” of Maharaja Ghulam Singh after 1846 and were resettled by the British in the Punjab were they were given Pensions and lands (no such privilege for “Kashmiri” refugees fleeing famines/wars/destitution), their descendants were identified and returned in census material as “Rajput” not as “Muslim Kashmiris” even though they came from the same region. Decades later these poor occupational castes started to identify through a Kashmir “zaat” identity (caste), wrongly thinking they all came from the Valley when they didn’t. This history is available in the works of historians and primary source material like censuses and colonial records, first-hand accounts that explain how this happened, you won’t find this history on WIKIPEDIA, where posts are written by Punjabi Kashmiris in Britain, or other British Pakistanis, who don’t know this history, as they make stupid claims about the real Kashmiris.

    Everyone who knows this history is laughing at them behind their backs. They are idiots.

    It’s like Jat and Rajput who think they belong to martial races. They don’t. The idea is made up. It’s all crap that is out-dated. Get with the times.

  3. DEBUNKING WIKIPEDIA on “Kashmiris”; You’ve been WARNED

    This is what WIKIPEDIA teaches you instead, (all the footnotes are wrong, and the citations from academic books (the few cited) are speaking about different realities; you need to read the actual books to realise what the authors are saying – these wikipedia experts are really ignorant of the books they cite)

    Kashmiri Muslim tribes from Hindu lineage
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [THERE IS A REASON WHY IT IS FREE!]

    Kashmiri kinship and descent is one of the major concepts of Kashmiri cultural anthropology. Hindu and Muslim Kashmiri people living in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India and other parts of the world are from the same ethnicity.

    [NO IT ISN’T; Kinship in Kashmir is not a major concept of Kashmiri cultural anthropology – THAT’S JUST BS; the idea of Kashmiriyat begins as a territorial identity in the 1930s for Muslims under Sheikh Abdullah fighting against the Dogra Raj; many Kashmiri Pandits were involved in these agitations. The battle cry was simple “Kashmir for Kashmiris”, which meant Jammu & Kashmir for all her people under the yoke of political tyranny, no jobs to outsiders from Punjab, Bihar etc etc. This is the Kashmiriyat of history, not the Kashmiriyat of Wikipedia.]

    Kashmiri Hindus are all Saraswast Brahmans and are known by the exonym Pandit.[1] [NO THEY’RE NOT. The idea of Brahmans all originating from the Saraswati River which is on the PLAINS OF India, again, is an origin myth promoted by Brahman writers PROMOTING this identity – it’s a made up claim, not an historical fact. In history and cultural anthropology we call this claim AN ORIGIN MYTH for a reason!]

    The Muslims living in Kashmir are of the same stock as the Kashmiri Pandit community and are designated as Kashmiri Muslims.[2] [NO THEY’RE NOT, PEOPLE ORIGINATE FROM DIFFERENT ANCESTRAL POPULATIONS; THAT’S JUST THE NATURE OF THE WORLD WE LIVE IN, PEOPLE MIGRATE IN AND OUT OF AREAS FROM ALL OVER THE PLACE. The Kashmir Valley is incredibly DIVERSE, like the rest of the Western Himalaya, people have come to this part of the world from all over the place]

    Kashmiri Muslims are descended from Kashmiri Hindus and are also known as ‘Sheikhs’.[3][4][5] [IF THEY WE’RE BRAHMANS, WHY ARE THEY ALL CALLED “SHEIKHS”, A TERM THAT IS USED FOR LOW-CASTE HINDU CONVERTS TO ISLAM IN MUCH OF JAMMU & KASHMIR AND THE PUNJAB?]

    The Kashmiri Hindus and Muslim society reckons descent patrilineally. Certain property and titles may be inherited through the male line, but certain inheritances may accrue through the female line. [WHEN DID KASHMIRIS BECOME MEMBERS OF A TRIBE OR CLAN – I.E., LINEAGE BASED? WHICH HISTORIAN HAS EVER SAID THIS? WHAT ABOUT ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT KASHMIRIS IN THE SUPPOSEDLY PATRILINEAL LINE, OR THE FEMAL LINE? LOL THEY ARE JUST WRITING BS. THEY DON’T EVEN UNDERSTAND THE TERMS THEY ARE USING]

    Kashmiri Muslim tribes from Hindu Lineage[edit]
    Bhat, Butt[6][7][8][9]
    Dhar, Dar[7][8][9]



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