Suicides, fratricides rising among soliders in Kashmir

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On Thursday, Sepoy Deeraj Kumar of the Engineering Unit posted at Kralpora pointed the barrel of his service rifle towards him and died by suicide by fired himself with his service rifle in Kupwara – frontier district of Jammu and Kashmir.

The police officials said that as per prima facie it seems that some domestic problem has forced Kumar to take this extreme step. “A case was registered in the matter and investigation has been set into motion,” police said.

Earlier on October 4, another soldier shot and killed himself with his service rifle in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district. The sepoy Stephen of 44 Rashtriya Rifles was posted in the Rajpora area of Pulwama district.

The fratricidal and suicidal cases are not a new norm among the ranks of armed forces in the valley. On July 25, a Border Security Force (BSF) man Prem Prakash posted in 33 battalion killed himself with his service rifle in Koil area of South Kashmir’s Pulwama. He was shifted to the hospital when his colleagues found him lying in a pool of blood, however, he had breathed his last before arrival at the hospital.

According to the human rights data compiled by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, the trend of suicides and fratricides among the Indian armed forces stationed in J&K saw an upward trend in 2019. 19 armed forces died by suicide and three CRPF personnel were killed in a fratricidal incident by a CRPF trooper in Udhampur district of Jammu.

“This phenomenon has been there in every prolonged conflict; be it Vietnam, be it Combodia, be it other places, or be it even in Afghanistan,” Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a retired professor of law from the Central University of Kashmir and a political commentator in Srinagar told Maktoob.

“So continued presence of forces in the field makes them war fatigue and that results in such tendencies of suicide or killing their seniors or colleagues”.

Similarly in 2018, the number was comparatively higher than that of 2019 as many as twenty suicide cases were reported among the armed forces stationed in J&K, the annual human rights report compiled by the JKCCS reveal.

“Since Kashmir conflict has also become prolonged conflict and exhausted all those who are involved in it, so this has, in turn, increased the tendencies manifold,” he claimed.

The irony, he says, is that there has been no effort on part of the system to find a political solution, so things are getting worsened with each passing day.

“Death of one creates scare which eats capacity of resistance of thousands, Sheikh concluded.

They said that the continuous incidents of suicides and fratricidal killings among ranks of the armed forces are indications of their poor psychological health, which demands the immediate attention of the government.

In 2017, the incidents have lowered to just nine of suicide and one incident of fratricidal killing.

Among them, six suicide cases were from army men, one BSF soldier, one CRPF man and a police cop,” data revealed. In the same year’s fratricidal suicide, an army soldier was shot dead by his Major over an altercation over the use of the mobile phone in Uri along the Line of Control.

In 2016, seven cases of suicide were documented in J&K. Out of the four were from the army including two officers of major ranks, two BSF soldiers and one CRPF trooper.

Similarly, from 2004 to 2009; 157 suicide cases and 55 fratricidal cases were reported among the armed forces in Kashmir and from 2011 to 2019, 116 armed personals committed suicide while 24 armed persons were killed in fratricidal killings.

According to data from the Ministry of Defence, in 2003, 96 army men committed suicide. In 2004 the number went to 100, in 2005 it stood at 92 and in 2006 as many as 131 army personnel committed suicide. In 2007 and 2008, the recorded figures were 142 and 150, respectively. Since then, the numbers have come down but still remain over 100. In 2009 it was 111; in 2010 it was 130, and in 2011 it was 102.

Mental stress, long duty hours 

Experts attribute multiple reasons for fratricidal killing and for the continuing suicides among members of the armed forces deployed in conflict zones. These include inadequacy for leave to go home, hard behaviour of seniors, poor services and drug addicts.

Merely being deployed in a counter-insurgency environment itself leads to stress and anxiety among the soldiers, some experts concede. 

Dr Yasir Rather, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry Government Medical College Srinagar while talking to this reporter said that the reasons may be multiple, but pre-existing mental health problems like depression, anxiety, psychosis, and alcohol addiction are common in 90% of suicidal cases among the ranks of armed forces.

“I think there are multiple factors responsible for it. Paramount among them is five – psycho-social problems, drug addiction, work pressure, respect from officers, and the most important, family support,” Rather said.

Besides these reasons, he said, with the advancement of social network sites – wherein land disputes, tensions within the family, things like these reach a soldier wherever he is posted. These domestic issues keep the soldiers’ minds occupied to a greater extent. He maintained that he has encountered many cases wherein a soldier ends their lives after quickly returning from home.

Constant and perpetual threat

Talking to Maktoob Media Public Relation Officer (PRO) Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Gul Junaid Khan denied the allegations of harsh behaviour from seniors and the denial of leave as the reasons behind the suicide cases. He said, “each case has a different reason”.

“I can vouch for it that no incident has taken place where somebody was mistreated or somebody was not given leave at the proper time, but yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the situation to some extent.

The pandemic did not allow soldiers to go home and if the family at home faces problems, or there has been an issue to the soldier, it has put a psychological impact on his mind,” said Gul.

He, however, said that even during the early days of the pandemic there were instructions from the higher security officials that there should be no denial of leave or no restrictions on leave in case any of the troopers met with any emergency at his home or somewhere.

He added, during past decades, it was possible that a soldier would be denied his rights; like not being issued leave, proper care, food etc.

Domestic issues and conflict

He added that the soldiers mostly come from the rural and patriarchal societies wherein they don’t have much exposure to settle down the domestic disputes being one of the reasons also“.

Soldiers sometimes undergo tremendous mental stress for not being able to take care of the problems being faced by their families back home, which could range from property disputes to financial problems and marital disputes or social problems,” he told Maktoob.

“Besides these reasons, the prolonged deployment in anti-militancy operations in J&K also takes a toll on the physical endurance and mental health of a soldier which has aggrieved the issue further,” Khan said. “The constant and perpetual threat has led to surge in the cases in past few years,” he continued.

Preventive measures

Despite all the so-called measures undertaken by the defence establishments to reduce stress and anxiety among the soldiers deployed miles away from their homes, there seems to be no positive effect of these measures as the growing number of cases belies the claims.

Speaking to Maktoob Media, Abhiram Pankaj, an official at the Central Reserve Police Force, claimed that the paramilitary forces have taken several measures to control the growing number of suicide and fratricide among troops deployed in Kashmir which include an initiative “Love you Zindagi”.

“Under this programme, the trainers evaluate the soldiers on their vulnerabilities as well as the scale of depression along with the anxieties that they are facing and subsequently train them to handle such critical situation,” he told Maktoob.

The main focus of this programme is to get rid of what is being termed as the “burden of patriarchy”.
Besides, regular yoga and meditation classes are being organized to de-stress soldiers. “Counselling is being provided by psychologists to check stress levels and, to some extent, this appears to have had good results,” Pankaj said.

Likewise, a large number of officers have been master-trained as counsellors to provide “mental health services” to soldiers inside their camps.

“Since then, there has not been even a touchwood of cases in J&K,” he asserted.