Every now and then, the media flashes news of suicides and fratricides in Indian armed forces. Not only the jawans (soldiers) but also officers, including women, deployed in safe rare headquarters commit suicides. Only soldiers posted in the volatile North East and occupied Jammu and Kashmir State do so.
A Sepoy, Prince Kumar (25), shot himself at Chinar camp in Rehambal Udhampur (IHK) shot himself dead with his service rifle on January 17, 2020 (India Today/PTI January 18, 2020). In May last year, an army soldier committed suicide by shooting himself with his service rifle in the Laam sector along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district.
A young army captain, posted in counter insurgency operations in Kashmir’s Lolab valley committed suicide shooting himself with his service rifle, forcing an investigation into the increasing number of suicides in the forces (Hindustan Times May 1, 2006). A soldier of Rashtriya Rifles (RR) allegedly committed suicide with his service rifle in a camp in Uri in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir (Hindustan Times January 29, 2013).
Suicides and fratricide incidents are not uncommon even among para-military personnel deployed in Kashmir. In January this year, a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) soldier shot himself while on duty inside a camp at Tral town in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district. On March 21, 2019, a jawan Ajit Kumar from 187th CRPF Battalion took out his service rifle and shot dead three of his colleagues – a fratricide, or fragging in military jargon. He later shot himself, too.
A Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) head constable (general duty), A.K. Dass of the E/110 Battalion, posted at a grid station reportedly committed suicide by shooting himself with his service rifle in South Kashmir’s Pampore town.
The Indian Armed Forces lost 900 soldiers to suicide in the last seven years. That is almost twice the number of soldiers lost in the Kargil War (527). It is demoralizing for the soldiers to see their disabled companions gadding about in courts to retrieve their legitimate dues, not to speak of remedying stress in theatres of operations. One jawan commits suicide every third day. Some politicians, including Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav publicly taunted Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (PTI, March 21, 2019), saying `Pulwama attack was a conspiracy’ and ‘jawans were killed for votes’.
In a written reply, India’s minister of state for defence, Shripad Naik told the Lok Sabha (house of people). `The Indian Navy, Air Force and Army reported 95 cases of suicide by their personnel in 2019’. Navy reported two cases, Air Force reported 20 cases and the Army reported 73 cases of suicide last year.
Over the period 2001-20, suicides and fragging remained unabated among forces. Not only India’s defence ministry but also its home ministry lamented the trend. Psychological counselling and compulsory yoga exercise could not check the trend. Even over 40 per cent of women, rarely deputed for combat duty, in paramilitary forces, committed suicide. It was baffling that the women’s suicides took place often at peace stations.
In 2018, there were 8, 16 and 83 suicide cases in the three forces. In 2017, the number of suicide cases was 5, 21 and 77 in Navy, Air Force and Army, respectively (Economic Times, March 4, 2020). Between 2011 and 2018, there were 891 deaths by suicide of members of the Indian armed forces (NewsClick, Feb. 19, 2019). NDTV (January 7, 2019) reported number Of Suicides [was] highest in Army among three Armed Forces.
Soldiers prefer suicide to die in combat
The Week August 6, 2018, reported `More Indian soldiers killed by themselves than by enemies …’.
According to the home ministry’s data, the number of jawans belonging to regular as well as paramilitary forces who committed suicides is more than those killed in action. According to data compiled by the defence ministry for the period January 1, 2014, to March 31, 2017, one person on duty from armed forces (army, navy and air force) commits suicide every three days. Data presented indicated 348 regulars committed suicide while on duty. Of these, 276 were from the army, 12 from navy and 60 from the air force.
Causes of suicides
India’s defence ministry shrugged off the blame for military suicides. It said the suicides are upshot of family problems and land disputes back at home. However, media (including BBC) and retired officers blamed poor leadership, supercilious, or stark callous attitude of seniors, refusal to grant leave even in genuine need.
Suicides in paramilitary forces
Paramilitary forces personnel also commit suicides. India has a multiplicity of paramilitary forces. The Assam Rifles, and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) with components: Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – 313,678 personnel, Border Security Force (BSF) 257,363, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) 89,432 personnel, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) 144,418, Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) 76,337. India’s active troops are 1,395,100, reservists 2,142,800, paramilitary forces and CAPF 1,403,700. The forces deployed within occupied Kashmir for patrolling, cordon-and-search operations were 780,000, later increased to 900,000.
During the last six years, approximately 700 jawans of the CAPF committed suicide and the rate of voluntary retirement was approximately 9,000 jawan per year. The suicides and killed-in-action ratio are highest in SSB (1:8), followed by CISF, (1:63) and ITBP (1:4).
India’s home ministry reported `during the last six years, approximately 700 jawan of the Central Armed Police Forces committed suicide and the rate of voluntary retirement is approximately 9,000 personnel per year’. Elaborating on its findings, the home ministry did not give figures for an exact six-year period but cited varying years _ 2001 for the BSF, 2012 for the CRPF, 2006 for the ITBP, 2013 for the CISF and SSB and 2014 for the AR.
According to the ministry, 189 CRPF personnel committed suicide since 2012, while 175 were killed in action in the same period. In the Border Security Force, there were 529 suicides since 2001 while the force lost 491 jawan in action. The ministry also said that 62 ITBP jawan committed suicide since 2006 while just 16 were killed in action during the same period. In the CISF, 63 personnel ended their lives since 2013 and just one jawan died in action. The number of suicides in the SSB, since 2013, is 32 as against four killed in action.
In the case of the AR, since 2014, 27 personnel committed suicide and 33 personnel were killed in action. The suicides and killed in action ratio is the highest in SSB (1:8), followed by CISF (1:63) and ITBP (1:4).
Suicides of para-military women
Over 40 percent of women in paramilitary forces commit suicide, despite never having to face combat duty. India’s National Crime Records Bureau data shows that women only constitute 2 percent of all central paramilitary personnel. However, they account for more than 40 percent of the suicides. The suicide rate for women in these forces is 396.9 per lakh compared to just 11.2 per lakh for men. There is clear evidence to suggest that women are more stress-prone than men. Bipen Rawat then India’s army chief, now chief of defence staff, publicly taunted women for their unsuitability for quasi-military duty.
Yerkes-Dodson Stress Model (YDSM)
The YDSM postulates that a certain degree of stress level (optimum stress level) is necessary to make troops live an active and productive life. The Indian Army took short and long term measures to maintain optimum stress levels among its troops but it was of no avail.
The troops are trained in conventional warfare where targets are visible to the naked eye. Every firing range of the Indian Army has these words inscribed on the firing butt. “No Pity, No Regret, No Remorse”. Chants like “Ek goli – ek dushman” (One bullet, one enemy) are chanted to remove any element of pity or remorse from the minds of soldiers during their training. In insurgency hit areas, their enemy is invisible, yet ubiquitous. Army trains them to be cold-blooded killers.
They fail to identify `enemy’ in disturbed areas. If someone does not halt in response to `halt’ order, they kill the innocent civilian. On knowing that they have killed innocent persons they remain traumatised for a long time.
Besides, they are tempted to kill innocent people to earn a promotion, commendation certificate and rewards of Rs. 25 lac. Recently, the army had to admit that Shopian encounter was fake, stage managed by a captain and his juniors to earn a reward.
Read more: Indian Air Force officer commits suicide
Exhaustive analysis by Major General Samay Ram
In his book, Stress, Suicide and Fratricide in the Army: Crisis within, (pages 79, 88, 2011, Vij Books India Pvt Ltd, New Delhi -India), Samay says, `[Indian] army is losing approximately 100-120 men per 100,000 in suicides’. He believes, with the additional commitments in Jammu and Kashmir, the number of such cases has gone up. This probably is the main reason for the rising incidents of fratricides (page 89, ibid.).
Counter Intelligence and counter-terrorism duty by army
He laments `army is deployed because of police and Central Police Organisation forces being ill-equipped and not fully trained. Who knows what happens in Naxalites and Maoist affected areas’.no General Rodrigues, chief of Indian army staff in 1990 had reservations about constant employment of the army in CI/CT (page 146, ibid.). K. Subramanyam voiced deep concern over increasing employment of the army in the secondary role (Prolonged anti-insurgency taking a toll on jawans by Rajat Pandit, Times of India, January 11, 2007)’ (p.147, ibid.).
Most of the suicides occur while on duty and often in occupied Kashmir or in the North East. The suicides are wrongly devolved to problems back at home. The nexus between suicide, duty stress, and supercilious or humiliating attitude of seniors cannot be ignored (Why Are the Armed Forces in Kashmir Plagued by so Many Suicides and Fratricides?). India should stop employing armed forces to stifle political dissent.
Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been writing free-lance for over five decades. He has served federal and provincial governments of Pakistan for 39 years. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies and magazines at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of eight e-books including The Myth of Accession. He knows many languages including French and Arabic. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.