In the last two months, several cases of security personnel killing colleagues, and in some cases themselves, have been reported. It seems like the prolonged emotional stress in the most trying working conditions is taking a heavy toll on our security personnel. The growing number of suicides among the armed forces is a disturbing trend that needs to be stopped. According to the official figures submitted in Parliament, there have been 819 suicides – 642 in the army, 29 in the navy and 148 in the Air Force – in the last five years. Along with suicides, fratricidal killings occur at regular intervals among the paramilitary forces, particularly the CRPF.
The recurring cases of suicide and fratricide call for an overhaul of the discipline enforcement mechanisms within the ranks of the armed forces. Concrete measures are needed, not just in terms of correcting the perception about the functioning of the security forces but also in improving the working conditions and the overall welfare of the personnel. It may appear non-serious for civilians but for soldiers on field duty, it is important to take a break and spend time with their families. The Defence Institute of Psychological Research, which was asked to identify the factors causing suicides among troops, found that not getting timely leave was one of the stress factors triggering suicidal behaviour. Among the recommendations made by the institute are rationalising the system of granting leave, counselling at the time of leave, decreasing workload, reduction in tenure of deployment, increase in pay and allowances, improvement in living conditions, building better interpersonal relations between the officers and men, training programmes in stress management and psychological counselling, enhancing basic and recreation activities and redress of grievances.
A more compassionate approach is needed to manage the precious human resources in a challenging workforce. While physical, medical, written and other factors are already built into the selection process, there is now an urgent need to include psychological evaluation of candidates at the entry level.