More soldiers of India's defence forces have been killed by themselves than by an enemy. A total of 437 armed force personnel have committed suicide in the last four years against 237 killed during combat operations which include cross border firing and even aircraft crash.
Replying to a question in Rajya Sabha, the minister of state for defence Subhash Bhamre said the highest proportion of suicide falls in the Army. In last four years, 340 armymen, 18 personnel from the Navy and 79 defence personnel from the IAF have committed suicide. Number of suicides continues unabated in the armed forces despite successive government claiming to have taken several measures to reduce the stress level among soldiers.
Bhamre listed out several steps taken by the armed forces to create healthy environment for their officers and other ranks and to improve their morale. It includes provision for better quality of facilities such as clothing, food, married accommodation, travel facilities, schooling and recreation, and periodic welfare meeting.
Training by psychological counsellors along with conduct of yoga and meditation have been used as a tool for stress management. Institutionalisation of projects ‘MILAP’ and ‘SAHYOG’ was brought in by the Army in Northern and Eastern Command to reduce stress among troops. Simultaneously, ‘Mansik Sahayata Helpline’ have been established by the Army and Air Force to take professional counselling and mental health awareness during pre-induction training. Besides, mental health centres have been established in Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Kochi, Port Blair, Goa and Karwar along with setting up of Military Psychiatry Treatment Centre at INHS Asvini.
"Prolonged deployment in counter-terrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir and northeast creates a negative impact on physical endurance and mental health of a soldier,"an officer told THE WEEK while adding that denial of leaves, poor basic amenities and low salaries are also considered to be some factors leading to depression. Officials also believe that problems of living away from family, raising children and educating them add to a soldier’s depression.
" Issues like marital discord or property dispute back home of a solider keep troubling him. With mobile phones, he is constantly in touch with his family. It eventually causes mental stress, which drives him to take extreme step," official added.
The junior minister for defence further informed the parliament that 37 officers and 201 other ranks have killed during combat operation. He also listed out measures for the protection of the forces and minimisation of risk factors on a continuous basis.
"The broad measures taken include upgradation of security infrastructure and intelligence capabilities, refinement of operational drill and response mechanism, equipping the forces with state-of-art weapon, equipment and surveillance devices, medical support and quick casualties evacuation mechanism," Bhamre informed Rajya Sabha.