What is a Subedar?


Subedar is a rank of junior commissioned officer in the Indian Army; a senior non-commissioned officer in the Pakistan Army, and formerly a Viceroy’s commissioned officer in the British Indian Army.

Refer to Subedar-Major.

Brief History

Subedar or subadar was the second-highest rank of Indian officer in the military forces of British India, ranking below “British commissioned officers” and above “Local non-commissioned officers”. Indian officers were promoted to this rank on the basis of both lengths of service and individual merit.

A subedar was senior to a jemadar and junior to a subedar-major in the infantry regiments of the Indian Army under British rule. The cavalry equivalent was risaldar. Both jemadars and Risaldars wore two stars as rank insignia.

The rank was introduced in the East India Company’s presidency armies (the Bengal Army, the Madras Army and the Bombay Army) to make it easier for British officers to communicate with Indian troops. It was thus important for subedars to have some competence in English. In an order dated November 1755 the structure of an infantry company in the HEIC’s newly raised infantry regiments provided for one subedar, four jemadars, 16 NCOs and 90 sepoys (private soldiers). This was to remain the approximate proportion until the number of British junior officers in a regiment increased later in the 18th century.

Until 1866, the rank was the highest an Indian soldier could achieve in the army of British India. A subedar’s authority was confined to other Indian troops, and he could not command British troops. Promoted from the ranks and usually advanced through seniority based on long service; the typical subedar of this period was a relatively elderly veteran with limited English, whose extensive regimental experience and practical knowledge was not matched by formal education or training.

Before the Partition of India, subedars were known as Viceroy’s commissioned officers (VCOs). After 1947, this term was changed to junior commissioned officers. It was not until the 1930s that significant numbers of Indian cadets began to be appointed as King’s Commissioned Officers (KCOs) from either Sandhurst or the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun.

Until 1858, subedars wore two epaulettes with small bullion fringes on each shoulder. After 1858, they wore two crossed golden swords, or, in the Gurkha regiments, two crossed golden kukris, on each side of the collar of the tunic or on the right breast of the kurta. After 1900, subedars wore two pips on each shoulder. A red-yellow-red ribbon was introduced under each pip after World War I. After World War II, this ribbon was moved to lie between the shoulder title and the rank insignia (two brass stars on both shoulders).

During the period of British rule, subedars and other VCOs wore distinctive uniforms that combined features of both British and Indian military dress.

After Independence

After independence, which came in 1947 with the Partition of India, the former Indian Army was divided between India and Pakistan.

Indian Army

In the Indian Army the rank has been promoted to second senior-most JCO with ribbon band on the shoulder strap two gold stars with a gold-red-gold stripe below. The Junior Commissioned Officers of the Indian Army is equivalent to Group-B Gazetted Officers in India.

Pakistan Army

In the Pakistan Army, the rank has been retained as a senior NCO, but the distinguishing ribbon band on the shoulder strap is now red-green-red.


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