In his post, Punjabis in the Indian Army, Fëanor writes about the composition of the Indian army in the 1870s. He notes that there were more Punjabi Muslims and Sikhs in the army compared to others.
Because most fighting by Indian troops from the mid-nineteenth century onwards was in north-west India, it was thought that troops recruited from amongst the local Kshatriya castes were best suited in those military spheres; further, recruits from the local peasantry were thought to be more impressionable and more easily commanded than the Bengalis and Tamils in the erstwhile Indian armies – higher caste folks with far too many opinions on the ways and means of the world than were good for them.
Between 1881 and 1893, the proportion of these martial races went up from 25% to 50% of the entire Indian infantry.[Punjabis in the Indian Army]
Madhusree Mukherjee’s Churchill’s Secret War mentions this change in demographics of the recruits to the army and offers a different explanation. Following the Anglo-Indian war of 1857, Queen Victoria took direct control of the colony after dismissing the East India Company and military strategists had to think of ways to prevent incidents like 1857 from happening again. So the native portion of the Army was filled with “martial races” — Sikhs, Muslims or Rajputs — from the regions that had not gone to war in 1857. Also recognizing the unity among various religious groups in attacking the English, they were segregated so that a Sikh regiment would fire into a Hindu regiment or vice-versa without any qualms.
When some groups are named “martial races”, the implication is that the others are not. What about the Native Infantries from Eastern and Central India that rebelled and quickly liberated various towns and cities in 1857? What about their leaders who planned the war, conducted internal and external reconnaissance, and recruited soldiers? Were they not “martial” enough?