Is it illegal for civilians to wear camouflage clothing in India? The simple answer to this question is ‘NO’. It is NOT ILLEGAL for civilians to wear camouflage clothing in India. This question has been repeatedly asked in recent times after some news agencies reported that ‘Army has made it illegal for civilians to wear Army style dress’!
Here are some of the major news agencies who covered this topic
Times of India, Business Standard, Zee News, Tribune, India Today, and Financial Express.
Many people have expressed their opinion on this subject at forums like Quora and most of them are of the opinion that it cannot be worn by civilians.
For any thing to be illegal, a law that exists should be broken. If wearing of camouflage by civilians is illegal then, the next question we should be asking is which is the law that they are breaking by committing the act or which is that section of IPC that is being violated.
Some people who have answered this question on quora have quoted Section 171 in The Indian Penal Code which states – Wearing garb or carrying token used by public servant with fraudulent intent. - Whoever, not belonging to a certain class of public servants, wears any garb or carries any token resembling any garb or token used by that class of public servants, with the intention that it may be believed, or with the knowledge that it is likely to be believed, that he belongs to that class of public servants, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees, or with both.
Section 171 of IPC has nothing to do with wearing a soldiers uniform. But, there is another section under IPC which deals with it – Section 140.
Section 140 in The Indian Penal Code – Wearing garb or carrying token used by soldier, sailor or airman.—Whoever, not being a soldier, 153 [sailor or airman], in the Military, 154 [Naval or Air] service of the 155 [Government of India], wears any garb or carries any token resembling any garb or token used by such a soldier, 153 [sailor or airman] with the intention that it may be believed that he is such a soldier, 153 [sailor or airman], shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both.
At first glance it looks like IPC 140 makes it illegal for civilians to wear military clothing but let me highlight the most important part of this section – “......with the intention that it may be believed that he is such a soldier,.....”. Now, read it again. Wearing of any Military garb is illegal only if the person after wearing it tries to pass of as a military personnel. For example, if a civilian wears a military uniform and tries to gain entry to a military area by pretending to be a soldier then, he has violated section 140 of IPC and he is punishable by imprisonment for 3 months and a fine of Rs 500 or both. This punishment is if and only he doesn’t get shot by the sentries on duty. It must be noted that the ‘intent’ is very difficult to establish. Therefore, simply wearing a military uniform more so a camouflage tshirt or trouser or both is NOT illegal.
If it is not illegal then, why do we have so many articles from various news groups screaming out saying it is illegal. This news started making rounds after the attack on the Indian Air Force station at Pathankot in 2016 where the terrorists wore army camouflage uniforms. After the attack, the following lines were widely seen in the media
The Indian Army on Friday asked people not to wear army-pattern dresses. Use of army uniform and equipment is not only illegal, but cannot be "a fashion statement", the spokesman said. "Avoid wearing army pattern dresses. It is illegal," an army spokesman said here on Wednesday, adding people should follow this in the national interest.
We do not know what the army spokesperson actually said. In reality it looks like an advisory issued by the Army to prevent identity confusion in border areas with heavy military deployment. In states like, Kashmir, Punjab and some north-eastern states there is a good chance of one being confused with a terrorist intending to sneak into a military installation. In fact, this can happen in any part of India. Such advisory is not new and civilians working for the forest department are told not to wear camouflage clothing as they might be mistaken for Naxalites operating in the jungle.
There are many types of camouflage patterns used across the globe by militaries of various countries. The US Army now uses a patented pattern called Multicam which can be used in various terrains. Earlier, it used the ACU (Army Combat Uniform) pattern during the operation desert storm. The US Marines use their own camo pattern known as MARPAT (Marine Pattern). The German army uses a distinct design known as Flektarn. Even in India, different paramilitary forces like, BSF, CRPF etc have their own camouflage prints. Disruptive patterns are also widely used by the forest department, civilians connected with wildlife and forest conservation and wildlife photographers. While it is not illegal to wear military garb by civilians, the Indian Army is particularly worried about civilians using a particular print of camouflage design that the Indian army uses. It is popularly called the Indian army pattern camouflage. The restriction on sale of camouflage uniform is for this Indian army pattern.
Will a total ban on civilians wearing camouflage or disruptive pattern help the military in preventing terrorist attacks. The answer is a big No. It is a mind set issue. On the contrary, instead of trying to enforce a ban on civilians wearing camouflage clothing, the military should train their soldiers to treat anyone wearing a camouflage as a threat until his identity is proved beyond doubt. A ban will create a mind set among soldiers that only military men wear such clothes and in a one off situation when a terrorist presents himself in a camouflage dress the sentries guards will mistake him for a soldier. It is this mindset of the soldiers that the terrorists wanted to exploit to their advantage in the attack.
Most developed countries around the world do not have any restriction on wearing camouflage clothes by civilians. However, it is banned in some third world countries in Caribbean, Africa and middle east. A list of countries where camouflage is banned can be seen here. One doesn’t end up in jail but the clothes will be confiscated by law enforcement agencies.