The National Cadet Corps is the youth wing of Armed Forces

The compulsory enlistment of citizens in some sort of national service, like military service

Conscription, as a word, has been seen with a negative connotation; when it’s actually about serving the nation. Many have & continue opposing the concept for a wide range of reasons, including : ideological objection that wars are a violation of individual & human rights; conscientious objection to military engagements on religious or philosophical grounds; political objection that they don’t want to work for a particular government they don’t like or to fight an war they don’t relate to.

The system of near-universal national conscription can be traced back to the French Revolution in the 1790s. The concept brought in large number of soldiers, that created a powerful military. Neighbouring nations in Europe adopted that concept and built it into a system that could work during peacetime as well.

Looking back in history, the first example of conscription was the State of Qin (China) in 221 BC ; started a process of registration of every household which allowed them to bring in universal military service, and helped in creation of the Qin empire.

According to Pew Research, over 85 countries have no laws for conscription into the armed forces. In 60 countries, conscription is legal and is practised. There are 23 countries where conscription laws exist, but people are not presently being drafted through the mechanism, and there are another 23 countries that do not have a regular military. Nearer home in the Asian region, we have both the Korea having a rigid military conscription system. In South Korea, all able-bodied males are required to complete 21 months of national service in the army, 23 months in the navy or 24 months in the air force. On the other hand, North Korea supposedly has the world’s longest compulsory military service - 11 years for men and 7 years for women. In Israel, military service is compulsory for both men (3 years) and women (2 years). In the USA, males between 18 years & 25 years of age mandatorily have to register with the “Selective Service System”. This is a process by which the nation maintains information on all those citizens who could be enlisted into the military, if and when a necessity arises.

Nay-Sayers May Say

India, being a democracy, its constitution has not provided for compulsory military training. In a democracy, anything “compulsory” is seen as being against the democratic principles of “freedom to choose”. Hence concept of compulsory military training has many nay-sayers.

There are those who believe that military training could teach the youth skills that we may not want them to learn; in case those unemployed or radicalised youth joining the ranks of the bad elements.

The Idea

The Indian Parliamentary Committee on Defence’s recommended in early 2018, to introduce five years of compulsory military service to such aspirants who plan to join Central and State Government Gazetted services directly. The reason attributed was to make-up for the shortage of personnel in the armed forces.

Taking a leaf from this suggestion, we can extend it for a larger canvas:

“Compulsory Skilling program for Indian youth, through compulsory defence service “

  • Create a program to have all Grade-12 pass-outs in India or those aged 18, whichever is earlier, to compulsory enrol into a 2-year Compulsory Defence Services.
  • These 2-year programs can have part-skills and part-diploma program built into it; those who want to continue further in the defence forces, can complete the diploma into a degree program or even PG. This would add to motivated and educated defence forces; those who leave after 2 years compulsory program, would benefit from the value-system and the discipline of the defence forces and their skilling program in that training would come handy for their employment or further education or self-employment utilising their skills.
  • The 2-year program can have skills based training that would help those who leave the service to become self-employed. This would need increased grants for defence forces from Ministry of skilling, to skill the youth, through the disciplined defence forces ecosystem.
  • Those who continue their stint with defence services (after the compulsory service) can be helped by integrating this idea into the tertiary education policy.
Advantages of The Idea:

Compulsory military service could install discipline and high sense of patriotic fervour in our youth. This offers a structured platform to deliver tertiary education and skills-based learning modules to our youth.

As a nation, we have diversity of all societal / economic / political / religious ideologies. More importantly, we have the gap between haves & have-nots widening. With majority of our population being the youth, it would be good to “bridge the chasm” through a structured and disciplined approach, that military training could offer - “that all citizens are equal in law”.

Military training is not necessarily linked to combat or ideology of war; it is rather “service to the nation”. And therefore, service of this nature is a good social-impact investment. Or call it “long-term impact investment”.

A concept as this not only reminds the citizens of their roots but also let’s them understand the obligations as citizens for the nation building cause. And to see the nation without any “isms” or bias or get carried away by fancy acronyms or smart hashtags. As a stark reminder of the Covid-impacted world, this idea could help bring back the sense of motivation and to use a formal system of developing “good citizens” for the future.

This surely will be value-accretive to our economic development as well as societal-values.

Can “Sarvajanik Sainik Shikshan” be a reality in years to come ?