All soldiers take great pride in their uniform. It sets them apart as a select group of people who take up arms in defence of their country and are willing to take or give lives in the line of duty. Military uniforms are as old as organised armies. They originated to distinguish soldiers across the world from civilians during times of war and also identify them as those who were permitted to bear arms in times of peace. From being more ostentatious, colourful and flashy in the earlier times, they have evolved to utilitarian and functional attire for the modern battlefield. Traces of the erstwhile pageantry is retained in the ceremonial uniforms such as mess dresses and those worn on ceremonial occasions such as parades and funerals.
Wearing of uniforms has always been governed by very strict instructions, laid down in the dress regulations of each service. To give the uninitiated an idea about the details to which these instructions go down to, here are a couple of pages from the Army Regulations of India Volume VII (Dress) dated 1912.
This would give you an idea about the detail in which what, how and when each article of is uniform to be worn is specified. The current version of Dress Regulations are much briefer and simpler, since the variety and complexity of the uniforms have been simplified. Yet, uniforms of the armed forces continue to be closely regulated both in terms of the specifications and the occasions on which what can or cannot be worn.
After ‘shedding their uniform’ or retiring, veterans understandably continue to retain their love for the uniform they have donned with pride for most of their lives. It is also a traumatic process to transition from a well regulated, orderly environment to the chaos and disorder of the world outside the cantonments. The loss of authority also comes as a blow. From being instantly obeyed, saluted, feted and looked up to for decisions, one is suddenly reduced to being an ordinary joe, not distinguishable from other men on the street. While the majority take this in their stride and adjust, a few find it difficult to shed the trappings of service. Possibly hating the thought of not being distinguishable from the ‘bloody civilian’ next to them, they go to ridiculous lengths to announce to their past to the world at large. This is usually done by wearing some articles of uniform on civilian clothing, particularly during public functions or while appearing on television shows. This disease is more prominent amongst those who retire from ‘star’ ranks. Not only are they keen to display that they are veterans, but also emphasise the high rank they retired from. They do this through embroidered stars corresponding to their ranks on various parts of their clothing.
There is another category of veterans who want to leverage the love that the common people have for the armed forces for furthering their political careers. They use articles of uniform while attending political events and on political posters.
This thread has numerous instances which illustrate the misuse of articles of uniform for various purposes discussed above.
Thread— Rohit Agarwal 🇮🇳 (@ragarwal) December 11, 2022
– A senior veteran wearing sidecap indicating his rank to a media event
– Another displays his old car flag prominently on the windscreen of his private vehicle.
We're all proud of our service in our glorious organisation. There are several dignified and accepted means.. pic.twitter.com/57kMC0wlTa
It is not that veterans are completely barred from wearing uniform altogether. The dress regulations also lay down the forms and occasions on which veterans can wear certain articles of uniform. For instance the wearing of medals / miniature medals are governed by Para 666 of the Regulations for the Army (1987) as under –
While the veterans are no longer under the Army Act and hence these Regulations cannot be enforced, unauthorised wearing of uniform or articles of uniform is also a punishable offence under Section 140 of IPC. In the current security environment there have been instances where terrorists have resorted to wearing military uniforms while carrying out attacks. The army is thus hard pressed to prevent the misuse of military uniform by unauthorised persons. Under such circumstances the misuse of articles of uniform by veterans sets a bad precedent before the public at large. And in most cases, the overt display of military rank and credentials in public by veterans makes them object of lampoon amongst the general public, who are too polite to point it out to them. The onus is therefore on the veteran community itself to stop this crass practice through peer pressure by highlighting such misuse at various fora. And if that does not work, the authorities may have to step in and take appropriate legal measures to enforce the regulations in extreme cases.