Fratricide in Chhattisgarh: Are our armed forces personnel under “Stress”?

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Dr. Smitha Shine

In a suspected case of fratricide, an ITBP (Indo Tibetan Border Police) Jawan allegedly opened fire at his colleagues in Chhattisgarh restive Narayanpur district on Wednesday, killing five personnel and injuring two others. Later the Jawan who opened fire was also killed himself with his own rifle. This incident has been recalled to compare it with the spate of suicides and fratricides occurring in the recent past. The recent data revealed that between 2011 and 2018, there were 891 deaths by suicide of members of the Indian armed forces (Army, Air Force and Navy). Among this suicide rate were high in the Army. It is reported that between 2011 and 2018, around 707 personnel took their own lives. There was a spike in suicides in the Army in 2011, when 105 deaths were reported. The next highest suicides were in 2016, with 104 deaths. Last year, there were 80 deaths by suicide in the Army. Annually there is an average of 88 deaths by suicide in the Army. Soldiering is stressful and evidence exists regarding the stress consequences on Indian soldiers. Researchers have reported that stress can cause mood or anxiety disorders which finally leads to suicide.

Stress affects everyone and has been labelled the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century” by the World Health Organization. However, Stress within manageable limits is essential for the fine output. It acts as an engine that drives humans to excel. Especially in military life, it can motivate a person to change behaviour and develop coping skills. But constant and severe stress causes physical and mental health issues as well as performance problems.

Some of the Causes of Stress among Soldiers are

Workload & Job pressure: Working more than defined working hours and expectations to do too much in too little time causes stress among soldiers. Moreover, the Indian army is a command-oriented organisation and promotions are totally dependent upon the command performance.
Lack of family support: Soldiers are staying away from their family. So they are alone in times of emotional disturbances.
Ineffective leadership style: Soldiers who are not able to give free feedback about work concerns or home issues due to the ineffective leadership style of their superiors causes mental pressure.
Long term commitment: Soldiers cannot change their jobs if not satisfied. Military service is a long term commitment.
Loneliness & Social Isolation: Soldiers have to serve in isolated and lonely areas for a long term basis have negative impacts on their mental health
Feeling of Guilt: For a Soldier, it is very difficult to be with family in case of domestic emergencies. It creates a feeling of guilt in their mind that they cannot support their family physically.
Death & destruction: Bodily harm to one’s own self, the death or injury to one’s peers, subordinates and colleagues are likely to cause extreme levels of stress to an individual. The material destruction caused due to fire is apt to cause physical hardships and resultant mental trauma.
Lack of recognition: The foremost duty of a soldier is to serve their country without any selfish motive. But they are also human beings who would like to be recognised for their services. Sometimes the ill-informed criticism by society and media causes immense despair on them.
The government has taken many measures to create a “healthy and favourable environment” for armed personnel. Despite all these measures if the suicides continue to occur then it is time to acknowledge the stress experienced by soldiers. Because along with the physical fitness which is a central part of military life, the mental health of a soldier is important, not only for his well being but also for the Nation.