Tackling suicides and fratricides in army and CAPF need joint efforts
An army major went berserk in the Rashtriya Rifles camp in Thanna Mandi area of Rajouri district on October 5 last year. He opened fire and lobbed grenades at his colleagues resulting in injuries to two officers including the commanding officer of the unit, until he was overpowered.
Earlier, on 12 April 2023, gunner Desai Mohan shot dead four of his colleagues in the army camp in Bhatinda on alleged grounds of harassment. The following day, a jawan Laghu Raj killed himself with his rifle while on sentry duty in the wee hours, at the same station.
The mounting figures of suicide and fratricide in the army have prompted the army authorities to seek the assistance of the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) to carry out a study of the mental health of its over 14 lakh personnel and even their families. According to available data, as many as 259 army personnel committed suicide between 2016 and 2018, while the figure was 19 in the navy and 56 in the Indian Air Force (IAF). While there were four incidents of fratricide in the army during the same period, the navy had none, and one incident was reported from the air force in 2016. These comparative figures serve as a pointer to the working conditions and satisfaction levels prevailing in these forces.
Compare these figures with those of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) comprising the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), National Security Guard (NSG) and the oldest para-military force of the country, the Assam Rifles, and they turn out to be mind-boggling. CRPF tops the suicide figures. While 36 personnel chose to end their lives in 2018, it rose to 40 in 2019, 54 in 2020, 57 in 2021 and marginally dipped to 43 in 2022. Replying to a written question in the Rajya Sabha on March 15 this year, the minister of state for home affairs Nityanand Rai revealed that 436 personnel of the CAPFs committed suicide in the last three years. While 154 personnel of CRPF committed suicide in the last three years, 111 of BSF, 63 of CISF, 40 of SSB, 32 of ITBP, 30 of Assam Rifles and six of NSG ended their lives in the same period. Add to this the attrition figure of about CAPF 50,000 personnel quitting service, the matter turns serious, warranting immediate solution to this malady. As many as 11,884 personnel chose to bow out of service last year.
Among the CAPFs, it is the CRPF which is highly mobile. That adds to the woes of the personnel. Since CRPF battalions have to perforce rely on the states for accommodation, which often is not of the expected standard, the personnel have to put up with whatever is provided.
The empirical data of suicides and fratricides in the defence services and the CAPFs tends to project a picture of better service and living conditions in the former. After a field posting of a fixed tenure, defence personnel are assured of posting to a field station. Not so in the CAPFs, where one may have to serve in hard areas for years though the degree of disturbance or the arduous nature of duties may vary. Living with families is a luxury, which not many may get to enjoy. The group centres, training institutions and zonal/ sector headquarters spread across the country provide some respite. But it is a small percentage of the overall strength that stands to gain.
A study carried out by a task force headed by the special secretary (Internal Security) has concluded that denial of leave to personnel is one of the foremost reasons for suicides and fratricides in CAPFs. Particularly in cases of serious sickness or death in the family, the personnel tend to lose balance of mind and resort to extreme steps. No commander at any level would like to deny leave to personnel. But operational compulsions leave them with little choice. The pressure mounts on the commanders especially during festivals like Holi, Diwali and Onam when most personnel desire to celebrate with their families. The situation turns ugly when personnel have mentally prepared to join their families for festivals and are denied at the last moment due to operational exigencies.
Union home minister Amit Shah had made assurances that personnel would be able to avail 100 days leave in a year. But the existing strength makes it near impossible to send them even on 60 days leave which they are presently entitled to, apart from 15 days casual leave. Until the sanctioned strength of the battalions is considerably enhanced, it would be impossible to extend the facility of 100 days leave, though there can be no denying that it will go a long way in resolving the issue.
Large-scale vacancies have an adverse impact on the battalions, making it all the more difficult to send men on leave beyond a certain strength. Replying to a question in Rajya Sabha in March last year, Rai stated that there were nearly 85,000 vacancies in the CAPFs. The army faces a shortage of 8,129 officers in the ranks of captains and majors who are at the forefront of all operations. Filling up all vacancies not just in the security forces but in all government departments ought to be taken up on top priority as it affects governance at every level.
Most suicides take place either at night or in the wee hours, particularly when they are on sentry duties. While being alone on duty, they tend to brood over their problems and finding no solutions, end their lives with the weapon in their hands. To avert such occurrences, the patrols on the rounds within the unit area, which usually comprise a Head Constable and a Constable, should interact with the sentries for a few minutes and help them overcome any such extreme thoughts,
Lack of interaction between the commanders and the ranks has been cited as the other reason for suicides and fratricides. Going for physical exercises with the men and playing games with them goes a long way in better understanding between the commanders and the men they command. This would generally be possible when the commanders remain with their men for a reasonable period of a year or two. Frequent change of commanders is not conducive to building a healthy relationship between the commanders and the men.
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