Understanding the Paramilitiary Forces of India

Security of India and challenges from external and internal threats remains a forever concern as India is surrounded by hostile forces.  For this, India’s security and safety are provided in some of the toughest and responsible hands that always stood first to face the incoming bullet across the border. These are the Indian armed forces which consist of Defense Forces, Paramilitary Forces and Strategic Forces Command.

Indian Paramilitary Forces

The paramilitary forces serve the national borders and strengthen the internal security system while maintaining peace in Indian Territory.

The paramilitary strength in India is widely believed to be over 1 million, representing some 50 per cent of the country’s total armed forces, making India’s the second-largest (after China) paramilitary force in the world.

Command and Control

The Paramilitary forces are under the control of the Internal Security Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs with a distinction of Assam Rifles which is under the command of the Indian army.

The forces receive their own budgets and are commanded by a powerful officer corps that safeguards their institutional interests.

The growth of Indian paramilitary

The most remarkable rise has of the paramilitary forces has been for border security, riot control, counterinsurgency, and close protection. The national government’s Intelligence Bureau is actively involved with these forces in countering violent upsurge and deterioration of the peace.

Under British rule, internal security had been maintained by Britain’s colonial army. The British had a practice of maintaining paramilitaries, such as the Cachar Levy (later Assam Rifles) and Punjab Irregular Frontier Force, but these were never quite separate from the army. Free India inherited these paramilitary constabularies and an infantry battalion, the Crown’s Representative Police Force which was later renamed the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

The separation of command between the military and the paramilitary, going up through the Ministries of Defence and Home Affairs, is an important feature of post-independent India. It is only during wartime can the military assert command over India’s paramilitary forces.

The actual deployment and behaviour of India’s armed forces is governed by specific laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act passed in 1958 to pacify the rebels in Nagaland and Mizoram, which was extended to other areas as required, and allows military personnel to enter and search, make arrests, and use lethal force. SImilar laws were created for the central paramilitary forces.

The rise of paramilitary forces in India is the result of worsening internal security propelled by several governance failures and an escalating security threat from the hostile neighbours. Punjab, the Northeast states, and Jammu and Kashmir have been torn because of perpetual violence exhibited by the infiltrators and fringe elements transcended by enemies.

The first spurt of post-independence growth of paramilitary forces occurred in the 1960s in response to external, rather than internal, threats. The threat from China led to the founding of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) in 1962. The force was intended for surveillance and special operations along the northern border and inside Chinese territory. The ITBP was recruited from acclimatized Himalayan communities and Tibetan refugees. The force was placed under the Ministry of Home Affairs, rather than the Indian army, to facilitate coordination with the Intelligence Bureau. India’s largest paramilitary, the Border Security Force (BSF), was similarly raised after the 1965 war with Pakistan, which had begun with Pakistani border incursions in Kashmir.

Here are the different paramilitary forces engaged in maintaining peace and security of the nation:

Assam Rifles

Established in 1835 under the British Government, Assam Rifles is the oldest of all paramilitary forces. AR’s job is to counterinsurgency and holds border security operations. Since 2002, they are guarding the 1,643 km long Indo-Myanmar border.

It got its current name (Assam Rifles) in 1917and had served British India in World War I and II. It is seen perfect in handling counter-insurgency operation, border security operations etc.

Border Security Force (BSF)

India’s largest paramilitary force, the BSF came into being in the wake of the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, to ensure the security of the borders of India, specifically to prevent Pakistani border incursions in Kashmir. It is headed by an officer from the Indian Police Service just like all other paramilitary forces except Assam Rifles.

The BSF and the ITBP were subsequently engaged in internal security, mostly focusing on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism in the border states. In Jammu and Kashmir, the BSF served as the leading paramilitary agency until 2003.

Nearly 2.4 lakh personnel are a part of this force and it is also called as the ‘First Wall of Defence of Indian Territories’.

Central Industrial Security Force (CISF)

CISF’s job is to provide security to Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs). Currently, they provide security cover to 300 industrial units. Industrial sectors like atomic power plants, space installations, mines, oil fields and refineries, major ports, heavy engineering, steel plants, barrages, fertiliser units, airports and hydroelectric/thermal power plants are protected by CISF. Thus, it can straddle over any terrain and climatic condition.

It is the largest industrial security force in the world and has 165,000 personnel. CISF plays a major role in Disaster Management and also has is a Fire Wing which helps during fire accidents in Industries where CISF is on guard.

Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)

The CRPF major task is to maintain internal security and law and order situations in every part of India.

Countering naxal operations, assisting the State and Union Territories in police operations to maintain law and order and helping with the UN peace-keeping missions also comes under CRPF’s task list.

The CRPF guarded the India-Pakistan Border until 1965, after which the BSF was created. In 2001 Parliament attack too, it was the CRPF troops that killed the terrorists who entered the premises.

The CRPF, which was established for internal security, eventually expanded for riot and crowd control and counterinsurgency capabilities. Through the 1980s and 1990s, the CRPF became a more mobile force, reconstituting its riot control squads into Rapid Action Force. In Punjab, the CRPF served effectively at the height of the Sikh rebellion. CRPF contributes to limited counterinsurgency in the Northeastern region. In 2004 the Indian government proposed to replace the BSF units in Jammu and Kashmir with new CRPF units.


COBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) is a specialised unit of the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) that was formed to counter Naxalism in India. It’s one of the few Indian special forces, that’s exclusively trained in guerrilla warfare.

Since its inception in 2008, it has successfully wiped out a number of Naxalite groups from India. Set up with a grant of Rs 13,000 million, it is one of the best-equipped paramilitary forces in India.

Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP)

The ITBP was established after the 1962 Indo-China war, under the CRPF Act to guard the north-eastern borders of the nation. It vigils the northern borders, detects and prevents every border violations and helps the locals feel secure.

As the threat from China mushroomed on the Arunachal Pradesh frontier, the ITBP force was strengthened giving the responsibility to fence the porous borders across the North-Eastern states.

It also keeps a check on illegal immigration and trans-border smuggling. They guard the Indo-Tibet border and the mountainous regions of the Indo-China border.

The ITBP is also trained in disaster management and has been deployed in UN peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Western Sahara, Sudan, and Afghanistan.

National Security Guard (NSG)

The National Security Guard is India’s premier counter-terrorist force. The NSG provides security to VIPs, conducts anti-sabotage checks, and is responsible for neutralising terrorist threats to vital installations.

The formation of NSG was a consequence of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star in Punjab against the Khalistani terrorists. It was raised to combat terrorist activities within the country and to ensure the states do not witness any internal disturbances.

They are often referred to as Black Cats because of their uniform which consists of a black dress and black cat insignia

Special Protection Group

The Special Protection Group is a security force of the Government of India that is responsible for the protection of the Prime Minister of India, the former Prime Ministers and members of their immediate family members.

In 1991, former PM Rajiv Gandhi was killed in a suicide bomb attack by the LTTE terrorist organization. As a fallout, it became necessary to create a special protection group for the former PM’s and their families.

Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB)

Established in 1963, the SSB guard the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders. Since, 2014 government approved the recruitment of women as combat officers in SSB.

Formerly known as the Special Service Bureau, their job is to control anti-national activities and inculcate feelings of national belonging in the border population among others.

SSB is also engaged in Counter-Insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and Anti-Naxal operations in Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. It is also performing internal security duties i.e. Election duties and law and order duties in different parts of India.

The Central Armed Police Forces or the Paramilitary forces, thus, play an important role in national security through border security as well as internal security.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest