Guest Column | Let them Know You Care

With a few corrective measures, the government can control the growing rate of attrition and cases of suicides in CAPFs

R.C. SharmaR. C. Sharma

India faces both conventional and sub-conventional security challenges. The sub-conventional security challenges such as riots, pandemic, terrorism, militancy, counter-insurgency and Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) are internal security issues with external security links and dimensions. Due to poor training, lack of leadership, non-availability of advance weaponry and equipment, the police is not able to handle these security threats.

To make up for police deficiencies Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) are often called in to deal with these security threats. They are regularly involved in internal security duties in addition to their mandated role and task which take a toll on mental and physical health of jawans. The ministry of home affairs’ (MHA’s) Parliamentary Standing Committee, headed by P. Chidambram, had flagged issues like long working hours, stagnation, attrition, inadequate infrastructure, inadequate accommodation and so on, in its 214th and 215th report. It had highlighted how lack of facilities and proper work environment led to stress and often resulted in suicides and fratricides.

These incidents have turned into headlines and breaking news in print and electronic media. A few examples of these are:

  • 3 December 2019: In Naxal infested Narayanpur district of Chhattisgarh, five ITBP him veers are killed and two injured by a colleague.
  • 9 December 2019: A CRPF jawan kills an assistant commandant and an assistant sub inspector during election duty in Bokaro, Jharkhand.
  • 3 May 2020: A BSF head constable shoots platoon commander in Rajasthan.
  • 11 May 2020: At BSF Subsidiary Training centre in Manipur, head constable shoots colleague, attempts shooting inspector general, head of institution. Later kills self.
  • 12 May 2020: A CRPF sub inspector and ASI committed suicide in Kashmir.

The government attributes the cause of these incidents to personal and domestic problems like marital discord, personal enmity, mental illness and depression. The government absolves itself of all accountability because enquiries into these cases never attribute depression, mental condition /family discord to the prevailing service conditions despite the fact that all personal problems emanate from difficult, treacherous and hostile environment and conditions. There is a need to understand the causes, which ultimately lead to fratricide /killings/suicides. What is the trigger for such incidents? Generally, CAPF troops do not allow any kind of pressures to affect them. However, when the pressure becomes unbearable, it takes the form of stress, and accumulated anger and stress result in fratricide or suicide.


Causes of Stress

Work and performance pressure: Troops have to work for long hours because of inadequate force strength, which is caused by widespread vacancies. Also, frequently men are recalled from the border to supplement forces in security-related duties in different parts of the country and thus, fewer men at the border have to take on more responsibilities. Long duty hours affect rest and cause physical and mental stress. Some frustration and a little provocation can break the mentally and physically, and those who can’t handle the stress, seek the suicide route or resort to fratricide. As per input provided to the department related Parliamentary Standing Committee of MHA headed by Anand Sharma, in its 224th report DFG (2020-2021), there are a total 1,03,367 lakh vacancies i.e. 11 per cent vacancies  in CAPFs. These vacancies are still unfilled and may have crossed a mark of 1,50,000 or more.

Inadequate accommodation facilities for troops and families: As per report of Parliamentary Standing Committee, the housing satisfaction level in all the CAPFs is very low. The housing satisfaction level as per departmental related standing committees’ 214th and 215th report is as follows:

  • AR: 21.3 per cent
  • BSF: 34.40 per cent
  • CISF: 12.58 per cent
  • CRPF: 11.83 per cent
  • ITBP: 13.41 per cent
  • SSB: 9.97 per cent-vis-vis strength

Improper and unhygienic living conditions: CAPF personnel are compelled to live in sub-human conditions, which affect dignity, morale and motivation. Irregular water supply and inadequate toilets leading to diseases/health issues also compound problems and stress level.

Separation from family: Inability to look after family and help children with their education lead to social isolation.

Unresponsive Authorities: There is disconnect between conceptual and tactical leadership in resolving problems of troops. Add to this, long working hours: In many CAPFs troops work for 12-18 hours a day all through the year and 80 per cent do not get any holidays or a weekly off.

Poor promotional avenues: Lack of promotions leads to stagnation which in turn affects financial and social status, and ultimately morale and motivation.

These stress-inducing factors do not affect government, conceptual leadership and superior headquarters but certainly affect those at the execution level. At that  level troops, company commanders, staff officers at battalion level and Commandant are affected. These factors affect duty hours, rest and relief hours, family status, financial status, education of children, health and relationship with colleagues and superiors. The CAPF personnel are caught in a vicious cycle of negativity without any solution in sight. However, the effects are non-tangible except hardship to troops and those families whose member commit suicide or become a victim of fratricide.

This stress leads to low morale and motivation of troops and executive leadership; disinterest in executive leadership due to unresponsive higher leadership; increased indiscipline; increased court cases; alcoholism; absenteeism; accidents; hypertension and other lifestyle diseases; and fratricide/ suicide.


The Way Forward

The bureaucratic system of carrying out studies on the causes and solutions will not help in preventing indiscipline, fratricide and suicides. Instead, a realistic analysis of operational  and individual requirements should be done by officers on the ground. Service conditions should be improved in such a manner that  there is no mismatch between manpower and infrastructure, operational area of responsibility and manpower, higher and executive leadership. Until there is mismatch, indiscipline, fratricide and suicides will continue to affect family, unit, nation and security. To prevent incidents of suicide and fratricide, organisations and the government need to act on the following immediately:

  • Remove mismatch between manpower and infrastructure. Provide proper accommodation and administrative arrangements at borders, in internal security and during election duties. In majority of border outposts, living conditions are deplorable. This leads to unhappiness, stress and fatigue, all of which are a trigger for suicide and fratricide.
  • Do not put unrealistic demands on troops and executive officers. Military men have individual, personal and social needs. They need to go on leave at least once a quarter or after three-four months. But often they are not granted leaves because of manpower shortage. Also, they are assigned large areas of responsibility which can be stressful and physically exhausting. So, a small admonition by the commander can lead to arguments, anger and revenge.
  • Provide proper medical facilities to troops and dependants
  • Evolve a system of interview and counselling by platoon commanders, company commanders to probe problems of troops and their families and make efforts to resolve them. This system, if implemented properly on the ground, can reduce suicides and fratricides by 90 per cent.
  • Do not be abusive and sarcastic with troops.
  • Do not comment /discuss politics, caste creed, region, religion and do not discriminate based on these.
  • Do not tolerate undesirable activities of troops and leadership. Be honest and impartial in rewards and punishments.
  • Do not humiliate or insult.
  • Conceptual level leadership disconnect with lower level commanders, troops and its lack of knowledge of ground level problems need to be addressed. The morale of executive leadership at battalion level too is low which need to be solved. The executive leadership is with troops all the time. It understands their happiness, pain and sorrows. Dissatisfied leadership and troops may not be able to give their optimum despite best efforts. It has been summarised amply in para 4.3.19 by the Parliamentary Committee of MHA, “The committee is aware of several cases relating to service conditions including stagnation and other issues pending in the courts. The total strength of CAPFs is approximately nine lakh, and each family consists of four-five family members, then, there are 30 or 40 lakh who are going to be affected adversely. The committee, therefore, is of the view that some dispute resolution mechanism outside administration of CAPFs need to be developed to reduce court cases in such matters”.
  • Proposal for creation of reserve battalions is pending with the MHA and should be cleared immediately.

Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw had said: “Professional knowledge and professional competence are the main attributes of leadership. Unless you know, and the men you command know that you know your job, you will never be a leader”. There is total disconnect between higher and executive level leadership, between leadership and troops. There is also disconnect between bureaucrats in the MHA and problems of troops, which the ministry is never apprised of. There is a need to address all the causes of stress and take corrective actions which, so far, hasn’t been forthcoming from either the government or the leadership.

Discipline, dedication to duty amongst troops is due to little connect which is still there between executive leadership and troops. However, executive leadership is left with very little manoeuvring space in command due to operational commitments and mismatch between operational needs and manpower needs which provide trigger to fratricides/suicides. Hope the government carries out an honest analysis of the actual causes instead of hunting for a scapegoat to cover its failures.


Call us