“Either I will come back after hoisting the tricolor, or I will come back wrapped in it, but I will be back for sure.”- Late Captain Vikram Batra.
We all have cognizance of triumphs and stellar contributions of our Indian Army, for which they are respected and adored. Indian Army is one of the biggest and strongest armies in the world. A well known quote states that “Sleep peacefully at homes, Indian Army is guarding the frontiers.” But, what about their sleep? What about their peace? After all, they are human beings too.
On August 8, some woeful statistics were revealed by Defence Ministry in the Parliament. According to those stats, since 2014, 310 Army Soldiers including 9 officers and 19 junior commissioned officers have committed suicide and 11 cases of fratricide were also reported during this period.
February 27, Jammu and Kashmir, Army soldier killed his 5 colleagues before killing himself.
May 25, Jammu and Kashmir, soldier killed himself and 2 others other after an argument.
One more case of Air Force’s Defence Security Corps, in which a sepoy took his rifle and fired at his colleagues because he was frustrated with his co-workers for allegedly verbally and physically abusing him.
The most highlighted solitary fratricide case of the year, on July 17, in Uri sector along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, an army Jawan fired two bursts from his AK 47 assault rifle on his major because he was scolded by his young major for using mobile phone during duty, as was then reported.
There are some reasons for these horrendous incidents.
When a Jawan is serving at border, his family goes through various disputes and harassments by some anti-social elements. They are helpless as their son/husband/father/brother is not there with them. After hearing from family about problems and not being able to do anything for them, a Jawan undergoes colossal stress. Also, most of our Jawans belong to rural background and join army at very fair young age, so with passage of time, either the patriarch grows old or passes away which leads to division in property. Being away from family for prolonged periods due to the nature and extremity of service, a soldier is unable to look after his family and belongings.
Other reasons are location and nature of service. From a very considerable time, the army and other defence forces are running many counter insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and North-Eastern states. Prolonged deployment in these regions affects physical endurance and mental health. As their minds are already influenced by family problems and these deployments with day-to-day operations have been adding another layer of stress. Militants nowadays get involved with the local mob and use them as human shields, due to which restrictions are imposed on soldiers to avoid accidental casualties to the locals and whenever such incident occurs it only adds to the stress levels of the soldier and criticism of army.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), denial of leave when in need to attend family, loss of fellow soldiers, lack of basic amenities, humiliation at the hands of officers and their ineffectual leadership also plays a role. The question of salary always remains on top of the list, which is genuinely low.
These complications even impact their serving period. That is why many seek to retire when they have completed their basic colour service. The process of selection of a Jawan is very different from that of officer. A potential officer candidate will face a 5 day Service Selection Board (SSB) where his courage, positive approach, leadership qualities and mental robustness is observed and judged. After selection, they are further burnished during training. Hence those incidents among officers are minute. Where as in case of recruitment of Jawans, because of vast number of applicants, through specific drills, only their physical strength, courage and leadership qualities are observed and their mental health and stress bearing capability are never judged.
Defence ministry, in their reply to the question regarding their efforts and measures to bridle the problem, mentions the implementation of “Sahayak System”. In this system, many officers have been trained as counsellors (sahayaks) to provide mental health services. Some other measures are provision of additional family accommodation, refinement in working and living condition, yoga and meditation as a part of routine and stress management sessions. But sadly even after the implementation and execution of these measures, bars in those tragic statistics have not lowered.
During the colonial period in 20th century, British considered behavioral and psychiatric disorders in Indian uniformed forces and worked on them. But nowadays, it seems that the focus is more on blaming ‘domestic reasons’ rather than acknowledging that strain of service is also leading to a rising rate of PTSD and suicides.
To thwart such incidents in future, first of all, it must be realized that admitting the problem is not a sign of weakness. Breaching of laws and rules by soldiers due to behavioral disorders should not be dealt with punishments, but through counseling and medical care. Indian Army is currently facing 30% shortage of officers. So officers are not able to look after their juniors because they have to perform additional duties as well. The administration should look after this so that there is more interaction between senior and junior ranks so as to allow catharsis and vent to ease troops’ frustrated emotions. Introduction of Electronics forums by Air Force and Army’s West Command for increasing interaction shows that redressal of grievances is really important and not just a mere formality. Also professional counselors at Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) level must be inducted in all uniformed services.
We as civilians should realize that brave and tough looking soldier is also a human being who needs mental peace. So to provide them that and to thank them for their impeccable service we can help their families whenever we encounter one in need.
Jai Hind. Jai Bharat.