INDIAN ARMY BUCKLING UNDER STRESS
Incidence of suicides and fratricides is on rise in Indian Armed Forces. Recently, Defence Ministry A.K. Anthony told the Indian Parliament that 49 cases of suicide and fratricide have been reported in the armed forces. Overall, there have been a staggering 495 cases of suicide and 25 cases of fratricide in the Armed Forces over the past four year. Of these, 154 suicides and 13 fratricides occurred in 2006, 142 suicides and seven fratricides occurred in 2007 and 151 suicides and four fratricides occurred in 2008. Of these total cases, 412 suicides and 24 fratricides were reported from the army, 76 suicides and one fratricide were reported from the air forces and seven suicides were reported from the navy.
The ongoing insurgencies in different states of India are exerting psychological impact of fear, shock, mental depression and stress, resulting in demoralization of the Indian military and paramilitary troops. Indian defence analysts and psychologists have indicated various causes of suicides and fratricides. They have attributed these trends to continuous work under extreme hostile conditions, perpetual threat to life, absence of ideal living conditions, easy availability of firearms, extended tenures of stay, lack of recreational avenues, domestic worries, irregular mail, and home sickness due to long separation from families. All these increase the level of frustration among the Indian troops deployed in the Indian Held Kashmir, insurgency ridden North Eastern and Naxal affected states. In many cases, the incidents of suicide and colleague killing happened when Jawans wanted to go on leave and were denied that privilege or were just returning from leave. In the first case, the necessary relief after a stressful stint is missing. In the second case, the problems at home, which remain unattended due to long periods of absence, could be the cause. So, in such a stressful state of mind a normal rebuke, scolding or an embarrassment is enough to ignite them. Retired Maj. Gen Afsar Karim said, “The stress may be high among soldiers because of lack of leave. The army is involved in a tough long running internal security environment. There is lack of rest. Soldiers get angry when they are denied leave and their officers themselves take time off. It triggers a reaction, while they are well armed and they take their own lives or those of their colleagues”.
So according to Gen. Afsar the rapport between Officers and Junior Commissioned Officers is missing in Indian Armed Forces. Officers at senior level are more concerned with their own welfare rather then the welfare of Jawans. Similarly, Jawans in Indian Army also face economic pressures. They are deprived of adequate housing and decent salaries. They face poor promotional opportunities and meager pensions. Due to economic pressures Armed Forces personnel seek premature discharge from the services, which the Indian Government is reluctant to provide. These army men when trapped in insurgency hit areas and finding no way out suffers from mental stress, which eventually drained out anger and violence against fellows and others. Similarly, the changes in Indian society such as the breakdown of the tradition of men staying with their parents even after marriage also contribute to the pressure. Previously, a soldier who went off to war was sure that his wife and children would be looked after in the event of his being killed in the battle. With modern nuclear families, the soldier is always beset by concerns about his family’s future.
The hostile working conditions in insurgent infested areas are no less important. The jawans, trained to fight a visible enemy, have to fight an invisible enemy in insurgency ridden areas and are exposed to enemy by themselves. So this confusion increases mental stress and frustration that results into rash actions. Soldiers in counter insurgency operations of the North and North East carry loaded rifles with them all the time. The smallest arguments usually result in the safety catch being slipped off and triggers being pulled.
According to a study conducted by scientists of the Defence Institute of Psychological Research, suicide and fratricide rates in the Indian Armed Forces are highest among troops deployed for counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East because their jobs are highly demanding. Director of the Institute said, “We have come across around 150 factors leading to stress among the armed forces". He further described that the stress could be of a personal, operational, organizational or familial kind or a combination of all these.
In the insurgency-wracked area, soldiers operate in an environment where they are not sure about their future. Dr. S Khrushid-ul-Islam, who teaches behavioral sciences at the Institute of Management and Public Administration in Srinagar, is of the opinion that stress caused by continued combat situations is the crucial reason for the rise in suicides and fraternal killings. Dr. Khrushid said that regular exposure to media transmissions from the outside world could enhance mental disturbance rather than act as a palliative. With introduction of internet and cable TV, these people get exposed to the other side of the world, where life looks rosy. Away from their homes and amidst constant tension, they began feeling that people outside are enjoying life at their expense. So desperation sets in and they search for an escape.
An Indian parliamentary panel had indicated that the military establishment despite well aware of growing problem of suicides and colleague killing is not taking it seriously. The panel said that the “alarming trends of suicides and fratricidal killings in the armed forces is attributable to increased stress environment leading to psychological imbalance in the soldiers”.
The Indian Army has decided to recruit psychiatrists to cope with stress within its ranks. Relaxation exercises including yoga and Pranayam have also been introduced at the unit level. Director General Medical Sciences Lt. Gen. N.K. Parmar indicated, “Sixty psychiatrists have been trained and are working in close coordination with the troops. If there are any signs of stress, this will immediately be brought to the commanding officer’s notice”. The government trained 50 Junior Commissioned Officers from the Army Medical Corps as counselors in the Northern and Eastern commands where troops are battling insurgency. The Indian Army recently began distributing field manuals on suicides and fratricides, for use by Officers and men in North and North East to inform soldiers about the stress symptoms and ways to prevent outbreaks of violence. Similarly, religious teachers, JCOs of Army Education Corps and regimental medical officers have also been identified as "psychological health mentors” at the unit level. The government approval of two psychiatric centers at the Northern and Eastern Commands in addition to advisories on formal and informal interactions between senior and junior officers is indicative of the intensity of problem.
The Indian Armed Forces have been so demoralized by fighting with the freedom fighters that either they commit suicide or kill their own colleagues and seniors. They completely lack the will to fight. Amid this scenario, Gen Deepak Kapoor’s claim that India is capable of fighting and wining the war against China and Pakistan at the same time and that she would finish Pakistan within 96 hours of a war sounds absurd. Because wars are not fought with machines alone, its men with high morale and motivation upon which victory rely.