Subedar (Urdu: صوبیدار) is a historical rank in the Indian Army and Pakistani Army, ranking below British commissioned officers and above non-commissioned officers. The rank was otherwise equivalent to a British captain.

CountryMughal Empire
EngagementsMughal-Maratha Wars
Battles involving the Mughal Empire

In the Nepalese Army, a subedar is a warrant officer.


These native Subedars have the knack of tramping upon us and extorting what they please of our estate from us...they will never forbid doing so till we have made them sensible of our power.

Thomas Pitt, (1699)[2]


In British India, subedar or subadar was the second highest rank of Indian officer. It was derived from subahdar, the governor of a province in the Mughal Empire and the Maratha Empire.

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.[3]

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 native 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.[4]

Until 1866, the rank was the highest a non-European Indian 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.[5]

Before the Partition of India, subedars were known as Viceroy's commissioned officers (VCOs). After 1947, this term was changed to junior commissioned officers.

After independence

After independence, which came in 1947 with the Partition of India, the former Indian Army was divided between India and Pakistan. In the Pakistan Army, the rank has been retained, but the distinguishing ribbon band on the shoulder strap is now red-green-red. After Bangladesh separated from Pakistan, the Bangladesh Army also retained the rank, changing the ribbon colours to red-purple-red, but in Bangladesh the title of subedar was changed in 1999 to senior warrant officer.

Insignia and uniform

Subedar rank insignia

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.[6]

Maratha Empire

In the Maratha Empire Brahmins from all three subcastes: Deshastha, Chitpavan and Karhade, were appointed as subedars and commanders of hill forts. The Deshastha Brahmins were the dominant faction during the time of Shivaji and his two sons.[7]

Under the Maratha Confederacy subedars were answerable to Peshwa commanders.

Hyderabad state

In the Princely State of Hyderabad under the Nizam, the top rank of administrators and tax collectors were called subedars. Although they were responsible directly to the Nizam they also held a degree of responsibility to the Great Moghul in Delhi.


  1. Blackburn, Terence R. A Miscellany of Mutinies and Massacres in India p. 11
  3. Creese, Michael. Swords Trembling in Their Scabbards. The Changing Status of Indian Officers in the Indian Army 1757-1947. p. xiii. ISBN 9-781909-982819.
  4. Creese, Michael. Swords Trembling in Their Scabbards. The Changing Status of Indian Officers in the Indian Army 1757-1947. p. 26. ISBN 9-781909-982819.
  5. Creese, Michael. Swords Trembling in Their Scabbards. The Changing Status of Indian Officers in the Indian Army 1757-1947. p. 28. ISBN 9-781909-982819.
  6. coloured illustrations by A.C. Lovett contained in "The Armies of India", Lt. Get Sir George MacMunn, ISBN 0 947554 02 5
  7. B. K. Ahluwalia; Shashi Ahluwalia (1984). Shivaji and Indian Nationalism. Cultural Publishing House. p. 47.
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