Friday, January 8, 2021
India Armed Forces have been losing over 100 soldiers every year due to suicides and fratricides
National Human Rights Commission
Subject-India Armed Forces have been losing over 100 soldiers every year due to suicides and fratricides
With due respect we wish is to draw your attention towards the Report of Scholars Webinar titled "Prevailing Stress Levels in Indian Army due to Prolonged Exposure to Counter Insurgency/ Counter Terrorism Environment" prepared by Col. A. K. Mor, Senior Research Fellow at the United Service Institution of India (USI). The attached summary of the report was uploaded and published on 07-12-2020. The Press Trust of India, Times Now and The Tribune have reported the findings of this report stating that "Indian Army losing more personnel every year in suicides, fratricides and untoward incidents than in any enemy action and over half of its soldiers seem to be under severe stress presently".
We submit that these findings corroborate the earlier findings in the paper titled "Addressing Stress-Related Issues in Army" published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in February 2011. Lt Gen Prakash Katoch, a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army wrote an article titled "Armed Forces Suicides, Welfare and Morale" (Indian Defence Review, 6 January, 2018) wherein he drew attention towards the information given to Parliament regarding 425 suicides in the Armed Forces since 2014: 335 in Army including nine officers; 72 in Air Force including 67 airmen; and, 18 in Navy including two officers. Parliament was also informed that since 2014, 803 Army officers and 38,150 soldiers had also sought premature retirement. It has been reported by The Times of India that as many as 597 military personnel committed suicide in 5 years between 2009 and 2013. NDTV reported that in 2018, a total of 80 army personnel committed suicide. The total number of suicides in the Air Force was 16 while in the Navy was 8, Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply on January 7, 2019. In 2017, the number of army men, who are suspected to have committed suicide, was 75 while in 2016, this number was 104. In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively. There are compelling reasons for the Commission to pay heed to the findings of Col. Mor's report which are consistent with earlier findings.
We submit that it is indeed true that military duty is regarded as one of the most stressful jobs in the entire world. Col. Mor's report points out that India Armed Forces have been losing over 100 soldiers every year due to suicides and fratricides leading to the grim reality of one soldier dying every third day. This loss is substantially greater than the operational casualties suffered by the Armed Forces. In addition, a number of soldiers and leaders have been affected by hypertension, heart diseases, psychosis, neurosis and other related ailments. The maximum incidents of fatalities occur in Indian Army with one of the primary reasons being the prolonged deployment in the Counter-Insurgency/ Counter-Terrorist environment.
We submit that research undertaken during 2019-20 by Col. Mor examined the stress levels in the Indian Army by identifying stressors experienced by the Army personnel due to prolonged exposure to the CI/CT environment and thereby make constructive recommendations to effectively manage stress in the Army. In this regard a webinar titled "Prevailing Stress Levels in Indian Army due to Prolonged Exposure to Counter Insurgency/ Counter Terrorism Environment" was organised on 17 October 2020. The panelists included Major Gen. B.K. Sharma, AVSM, SM Bar (Retd), Director USI, Major Gen Rajiv Narayanan, AVSM, VSM (Retd), Head CS3 USI and Major Gen. R.P. S. Bhadauria, VSM (Retd), Distinguished Fellow, USI.
Drawing on the report, we submit that stress is an outcome of anxiety generated in an individual by their perception of the demands and complexity of a situation, and the consequently perceived ability to handle the problem. This study has used Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) Life Events Scale (LES) 2001 for quantification of stress amongst Indian Army personnel. Indian Army personnel face Environmental Stressors, Organizational Stressors, Personal Stressors, Role Related Stressors, Socio-economic Stressors and Miscellaneous Stressors. The main findings of the study are as under:-
1. Indian Army has been losing more personnel eveO'year due to suicides, fratricides and untoward incidents than in response to any enemy and/or terrorist activities.
2. There has been a significant increase in stress levels amongst Indian Army personnel during approximately the last two decades due to operational and non-operational stressors. Furthermore, presently more than half of Indian Army personnel seem to be under severe stress.
3. Prolonged exposure of Indian Army personnel to CI/CT environment has been one of the contributory factors for increased stress levels.
4. The operational stressors are well understood and accepted by Indian Army personnel as integral part of their profession. However, non-operational stressors are perceived to be avoidable and resented against. Unsurprisingly, it is precisely these non-combat stressors that add on to the operational stressors and have compounding adverse effects on health and combat efficiency of soldiers and thus affecting their respective units too. The stress management measures therefore, need to be focused towards mitigating organisational causes of non-operational stressors.
5. Indian Army Officers experience comparatively much higher cumulative stress levels as compared to the JCOs/ OR. Also, the stress causative factors are found to be different for Officers as compared to JCOs/ OR. Therefore, the aspects causing stress amongst the various categories of Army personnel need to be addressed accordingly. Moreover, the overall job satisfaction and pride in uniform still remains high amongst JCOs/ OR. However, at the same time, it seems to be a growing matter of concern amongst Officers, requiring urgent interventions from the highest levels of Government.
6. Despite harsh and challenging service conditions, Indian Army personnel remain highly motivated to serve in CI/ CT areas voluntarily. They possess high confidence in the training, weapons and equipment provided for operating in the CI/ CT environment. However, the Officers lack a similar level of trust, faith and confidence in their leadership that JCOs/OR demonstrate.
The report underlines that various stress management measures implemented by the Indian Army and Ministry of Defence during the last 15 years have not been able to achieve the desired results. There is thus an urgent need to remove all the shortcomings in the existing strategies at the earliest. Prolonged exposure to excessive stress has serious adverse effects on the health and efficiency of soldiers and combat units. Units and sub-units under stress are likely to witness an increased number of incidents of indiscipline, unsatisfactory state of training, inadequate maintenance of equipment and low morale, motivation and esprit-de-corps, thereby adversely affecting their combat preparedness and operational performance. Soldiers under stress need to be counselled, motivated and dealt with empathy. It points out insufficient accommodation and educational facilities, lack of motivation amongst juniors, non-grant of leave, indifferent attitude of civilian officials and short command tenures. The main organisational stressors as perceived by JCOs/ OR include delay and denial of leave, excessive engagements, domestic problems, humiliation by seniors, lack of dignity, unreasonable restrictions on the use of mobiles, lack of recreational facilities, conflict with seniors as well as subordinates, health problems, the inadequacy of train reservation, inefficient
administrative support, financial problems, lack of transparency in promotions, delay in crediting of financial claims and poor quality of rations as well as cooked food.
We submit that it has aptly been inferred by Ms. Sakshi Sharma in a paper titled "Occupational stress in the armed forces: An Indian army perspective" that "A 'sick' army can negatively impact the country in terms of health care, unhealthy working relationships, suicides, and killing of fellow soldiers, which have been frequently witnessed in the past decade."
In the light of the above, we earnestly seek your immediate intervention to make considered recommendations for the protection of our armed forces.
Thanking you in anticipation.
Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL)