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The stressed soldier

The number of military personnel across different branches and ranks taking their own lives has spiked in India, raising questions of esprit de corps. Since 2006, there have been 495 cases of suicides and 25 cases of “fragging,” or killing of fellow-soldiers, in the Army alone. Several measures have been announced in recent years to address the crisis, but clearly, more are needed. Tellingly, a report prepared by the Defence Institute of Psychological Research, while putting the incidents in the context of the strain and stress of prolonged and repeated deployment in situations of civil conflict, often in counter-insurgency roles, has also emphasised the need for sensitising the intermediate-level leadership to the problems of the jawans and for improving interpersonal relations between officers and men. The “organisational environment in which the soldier lives and works,” has to be improved and “better integration of the individual in the group” facilitated. Providing adequate rest and recuperation opportunities, rationalising the grant of leave, improving manpower management, and enhancing awareness among troops regarding stress management are some of the other suggestions this internal study has come up with. The recommendations call for some rethinking on occupational issues and internal dynamics, and a qualitative change in person-management methods across the ranks.

The military leadership should move with greater seriousness to find ways of mitigating the stress levels of soldiers. The services have in recent times made available mental health-related assistance and counselling facilities. The shortage of properly trained personnel for the task of counselling also needs to be addressed by means of special selection and training procedures. Simultaneously, steps to eliminate any stigma that may be associated with accessing counselling and mental health services should be initiated. Also, the circumstances that led to suicide or killing should be gone into in every case and the data analysed systematically so that the problem could be better understood. The government has, of course, taken several steps to give armed forces personnel a better deal. Their pay and allowances, as also pension benefits, have been improved considerably in recent months. The creation of an Armed Forces Tribunal that would deal exclusively with pending cases relating to the services and welfare of the personnel is also a step in the right direction. Along with better pay and service conditions, it must also be ensured that the force is less stressed, and at peace with itself.

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