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The army is finding it hard to prevent suicides, despite taking a host of measures to ensure that soldiers do not kill themselves on active duty.
Suicide rates may not have hit astronomical levels in recent years, but it hasn’t dropped either. The force has recorded an average of 100 suicides annually since 2002 — with most being reported in forward areas.
Defence minister Arun Jaitley told Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that 498 soldiers had killed themselves during 2009-13, compared to 83 air force and 16 naval personnel.
A navy commando on Monday allegedly shot himself at Visakhapatnam-based naval station Kalinga.
To combat suicide surge in the army, the defence ministry had in 2007 asked the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) to conduct a study on suicides in the army. The DIPR’s findings were disturbing. It had identified abusive language, perceived humiliation by superiors, poor command and control, increased workload and the issue of leave as the chief precipitating factors for suicide among troops.
Several measures, including a liberalised leave policy, were taken to address the concerns highlighted in the DIPR report but despair in the ranks persists going by the latest figures.
The suicide rate peaked in 2010 when 116 soldiers took the extreme step, compared to 86 in 2013. Last year’s figure may be comparatively lower but it does reflect flagging morale of troops deployed in the counter-insurgency grid.
Jaitley said the government had taken several steps to create a stress-free working environment for defence personnel including improved living and working conditions, instituted grievance redressal mechanisms and the introduction of psychological counselling, yoga and meditation in units.