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Growing trend of suicide among armed forces

Last week a soldier committed suicide by shooting himself with his service rifle in Qazigund area of South Kashmir’s Kulgam district. Identified as Sepoy Kulvinder Singh of 10 Sikh Regiment shot himself at army camp in MughalGund area of Qazigund while he was on duty. This is not an isolated incident which could be overlooked by any means. Suicide and fratricide incidents among armed forces are not uncommon. However, over the past few years, these incidents have increased dangerously. Only this month three other soldiers have committed suicide in Kashmir. On March 7, Sepoy Birender Sinha of 30-RR camping at Langate ended his life. On March 10, constable Prukha Sukhdev of the 79 Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), posted in the Sonwar area of Srinagar, shot himself with his service rifle inside the camp. On March 5, another jawan Naik Shankar Singh of 18-RR shot himself dead at Warnov Lolab. According to the data compiled by the defence ministry of India, one person on duty from Armed Forces commits suicide every three days. Information given to the Rajya Sabha last year revealed that since 2014, there had been 425 suicides in the armed forces – 335 in the army, 18 in the navy and 72 in the IAF – and that there was a deficit of 9,259 officers and 50,363 other ranks in the armed forces. The data says that for the period January 1, 2014 to March 31st, 2017 three hundred and forty eight personnel committed suicide while on duty. OF these 276 were from the Army, 12 from Navy and sixty from the Air Force. In the preceding four years 597 personnel of Army committed suicide: 116 in 2010, 105 in 2011, 95 in 2012 and 86 in 2013. The Ministry of Defence blamed personal reasons including land related disputes back home and apathy shown by civil authorities towards such problems for the recurring occurrence of suicide. But a very significant point missing in the defence ministry’s argument is missing. Most of the suicides and fratricides occur while on duty have been reported from Jammu and Kashmir or the North East. The link between suicide with stress and trauma related to their active duty in operations cannot be discounted. While prolonged deployment in counter-insurgency operations in J&K and northeast takes its toll on the physical endurance and mental health of soldiers, it is compounded by other problems such as ineffectual leadership and sometimes humiliation at the hands of their officers. Last year (on the night of July 18), an army soldier pumped five bullets into Major Shikhar Thaha of 71 Armoured Regiment in Uri causing the Major’s instant death. The soldier was miffed for being reprimanded by the Major for using a mobile phone while on duty. Few would dispute with the fact that the prolonged violence in Kashmir has put the armed forces on duty in a serious stressful condition. They feel death always around. It is for this fact that the soldiers (of all forces) on occasions make no difference between a civilian and a militant and treat them with equal measure of bullets. The killing of civilians, which ultimately, cause public anger and finally catch up with the personnel involved only but adds to their mental disorder. There are reports that many a soldiers involved in suicides or fratricides even in other parts of India do have service background of working in Jammu and Kashmir and north east. It may not be going overboard to say that Kashmir is writing a new script for armed forces. Government of India needs to take note of this serious trend among armed forces. Government cannot live under the so-called comfort that suicide rates in armed forces are less than in general population. Suicide is a rough measure that can be beaten with right measures. In the first place, government should address the very fundamental cause that creates stressful situation. It is the duty of the political leadership to take measures that could lessen the burden of prolonged duty in stressful areas. This can be done only when government reaches out to the peoples’ sense of alienation by reaching them out politically. Kashmir and other areas of conflict need a sincere political outreach that only can lessen the burden on armed forces.