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Incidents of Suicide and Fratricide Have Risen Among Security Troopers in J&K This Year

The coronavirus pandemic seems to have added to the mental stress on members of the security forces, who already face tough working conditions and being apart from their families.

Srinagar: Incidents of suicide and fratricide are not uncommon among the members of the various security forces deployed in Kashmir. But this year the number of these incidents has shot up for reasons that range from the COVID-19 pandemic to a ban on home leave to family issues and heavy duties.

The Wire compiled data from different sources which reveals that between January and August 2020, 18 members of the security forces died by suicide and six died in fratricidal incidents, making a total of 24 such deaths so far.

In 2019, according to the annual human rights review by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), 19 members of the armed forces reportedly died by suicide while three were killed in a fratricidal incident in Udhampur district. The total number of deaths by suicide and fratricide for all the 12 months of 2019 was 22.

Under pressure

Paramilitary troopers and army soldiers on patrolling duties in the Kashmir Valley spoke to The Wire on the condition of anonymity to explain why the number of suicides and fratricide in the forces has risen this year.

A Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) trooper in northern Kashmir’s Kupwara district said that family disputes can lead to suicide among his colleagues. “Every trooper gets leave after six months of deployment and if any untoward incident takes place at his home while he is there, it has a direct impact on his mind,” explained the trooper. “If the situation gets worse and he is unable to go home and sort it out, it can push troopers to end their lives.”

A retired army soldier who has worked across India, including Jammu and Kashmir, said that a lack of coordination between an army soldier and his immediate officer is also why suicidal and fratricidal incidents occur in the forces. “Aside from this, soldiers do not get adequate sleep because they conduct regular nocturnal anti-militancy operations in Jammu and Kashmir,” he added.

According to a Times of India report, over 1,100 members of the Indian Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force) died by suicide in the past decade. The report acknowledges that “protracted deployment” in conflict areas like Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast takes a toll on the mental health of the members of the Armed Forces.

A senior CRPF officer said that security forces in Kashmir work under tremendous pressure and that “very little work is done in post-conflict psychosomatic disorders”. They are separated from their families for long periods and often denied leave during tough counter-insurgency operations, the officer added.

CRPF jawans stand guard during curfew in Srinagar. Representative image. Photo: PTI/S. Irfan

Stress and fear

This year, however, the rise in suicides among the members of the security forces has been directly linked with the coronavirus pandemic. Two CRPF troopers who died by suicide blamed the pandemic.

On May 12, a CRPF sub-inspector shot himself with his service rifle in the Akrun Mattan area of South Kashmir’s Anantnag district. A note he wrote said: “I am afraid, I may be Corona positive…. Better to die (sic).”

On the same day, an assistant sub-inspector of the CRPF who worked near Neelam Cinema in Karan Nagar of Srinagar also shot himself and died.

A senior CRPF official said regular counselling sessions are conducted for the CRPF troopers during morning and evening hours, but the COVID-19 pandemic still puts a certain level of pressure on their minds.

The tough work culture and lack of adequate home leave can trigger mental health issues among members of the security forces, said Dr Yasir Hassan Rather, associate professor with the department of psychiatry at the Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Srinagar.

“On an average, our institute receives four cases of suicide from the security forces every month,” Dr Rather told The Wire. “I suggest that members of the security forces get leave whenever they want and need it. Heavy duties take their toll on mental health, so there should be breaks between their duties. Services of in-house counsellors, religious preachers, psychologists and proper psychiatric facilities will also help the security forces reduce the mental stress on their members. Aside from all this, there should be no communication gap between the members of the security forces and their superior officers. The troopers should feel comfortable to express their feelings and problems.”

Also Read: Between 2011 and 2018, Almost 900 Armed Forces Personnel Died by Suicide

Family matters

According to experts, low morale which leads to stress, poor service conditions, inadequate home leave and a communication gap with superior officers are some of the reasons for the high number of suicides and fratricide among the members of the security forces deployed in Jammu & Kashmir.

However, Major General (Retired) G.D. Bakshi told The Wire that suicidal and fratricidal incidents in the Army have not reached an alarming stage and many activities to relieve stress are already taking place in army camps and units.

“The figures are not alarming, but yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the situation. The pandemic did not allow soldiers to go home and if the family at home faces problems, it has a psychological impact on the mind of the soldier,” said Bakshi.

Bakshi, who commanded an infantry battalion in the 1999 Kargil War, said that in his time of service, letters were the only form of communication between a soldier and his family, but nowadays the soldiers have access to the internet and mobile phones.

“In my time, we would receive letters from family members after months and we did not know what was happening back home. These days, the internet and mobile services allow the soldiers to stay in constant touch with their families. So if the family faces a problem, the soldier knows immediately and it brings mental stress,” said Bakshi.

Gul Junaid Khan, public relations officer of the CRPF’s Kashmir sector, told The Wire that it is hard to generalise the reasons behind rising incidents of suicide and fratricide among CRPF troopers. “Each case has a different reason,” said Khan.

However, he denied the argument that inadequate home leave is part of the problem. “There has not been a single case in which a trooper was denied leave and then died by suicide. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the troopers could not go home, but otherwise, there has been no problem,” he told The Wire.

If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers (www.spif.in/seek-help/) they can call to speak in confidence. You could also refer them to the nearest hospital.

Irfan Amin Malik is a journalist based in Kashmir. He tweets @irfanaminmalik.