Army's unique institute that uses faith to cement India's diversity

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 03-05-2024
Alter of prayer room at Institute of National Integration with symbols of main religions of India
Alter of prayer room at Institute of National Integration with symbols of main religions of India


New Delhi

Indian Army not only keeps India’s enemies at bay on the borders but also uses religion as a glue to keep the world’s most diverse nation together. 

This happens at a unique Institution – the Institute of National Integration (INI), Pune, where religious clerics are turned into soldiers, counselors, and moral and spiritual guides to help troops stay positive and perform their duties well.

The Army has been running this institute for close to four decades. In its vast campus, the Army establishment trains religious teachers – Hindu priests, Maulvis, Granthis, Christian and Buddhist priests, etc. to discover a common narrative of all religions and use it to guide and help troops.

Religious teachers doing Physical training at INI

These trained men of religion from different faiths serve with Army units and formations across the country. Each one is sent to a regiment and is further posted to units as a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO).

Brigadier MM Vitekar, Commandant of the INI says that this institution was started by the Indian Army “to cement the concept of national integration.”

“We are the alma mater of all religious teachers of all faiths in the Indian Army. Religion, spirituality, and faith play a very important role in motivating a soldier to make the supreme sacrifice when called upon... We train religion teachers to not just be men of rituals; we train them to be spiritual guides, motivators, psychological gatekeepers, and stress managers, and be good junior leaders.” 

He said the religious teachers who have completed their degrees from respective religious institutions and are selected by the recruitment wing of the Army are first given six-week training as soldiers at a different place. They are trained in basic soldiering, like physical training, PT drill, swimming and firing weapons, etc.

Thereafter, they are moved to INI for 11-week training. Vitekar said at the institute they are subjected to training and lectures from experts for becoming counselors, and religious and spiritual guides to the troops.

“During this period, they are exposed to lectures by experts, and psychologists. Motivational speakers and other experts. They are also exposed to one of the best libraries of religious books and a sophisticated and modern computer laboratory.

The entrance of Institute of National Integration, Pune

“This unique institute has been training religious teachers in various aspects of Junior leadership by exposing them to spiritual, philosophical, and psychological facets of religion and training them to be a mentor and counselors for the soldiers of the Indian Army,” INI Chief Vitekar said. 

They also perform the multidimensional role of Yoga instructors, psychological gatekeepers, mitigators of lifestyle diseases, experts of Resource Optimization, and promoters of National Integration and Religious Harmony, he added.

The INI campus has a 'Sarva Dharma Sthal', a hall where all symbols of all major religions - – Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam - are kept along with their respective religious books. "That is a place where all of us get together irrespective of faith and religion, and pray together.," the commandant said.

"We celebrate our festivals together, which is a step towards the camaraderie required in the Indian Army and which is also a step towards national integration... A mix of religion, spirituality, and motivation, is the need of the hour..." 

Religious teachers at Sarv Dharm Sthal at INI

Vitekar said at INI, the recruited religious teachers are taught about the rich cultural heritage of India and its civilization and common aspects of all religions. We lay the foundation of national integration here.”

A JCO who is a trainer at the INI said, that officials trained by them serve a great purpose in the Army. “With tensions in the common man’s life rising they counsel the troops on how to deal with the marital and other crises morally and legally and also other issues. They use their training to keep the morale of the fighting troops high all the time.”

“We get the feedback from army units about the utility of the religious officers and it’s very good,” Vitekar said.

“We celebrate all festivals together here,” said one of the trainers.

ALSO READHospital for poor is top priority of Pune's 77-year activist Ashraf Mulla

A Muslim priest belonging to Medhnapur, West Bengal said, “Religions have common teachings and there is no better way to practice religion than to use it for the national unity and protection of Mother India. (With inputs from ANI)