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Farewell to arms

india Updated: Jul 03, 2007 23:48 IST

Hindustan Times
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The back-to-back suicides of two Indian Army personnel will again put the armed forces in an embarrassing situation. In the first instance, an Indian Army captain posted in Jammu and Kashmir allegedly committed suicide last weekend at her home. And on Monday, an army jawan shot himself dead while on duty in a cantonment near Jammu. On the one hand, the army faces a tough task, trying to prevent the impression from gaining ground that it adopts a lax attitude towards the death of personnel in service. On the other hand, it has to take immediate steps to check what is evidently an alarming rise in the number of cases of suicide and fratricidal killing in its ranks. This is surely something no army can gloss over and it’s high time the army stopped using the usual list of possible reasons, including marital, financial and medical problems, and issues relating to children’s education, to explain the suicides away.

In any case, no empirical study ever supported this. The army’s time would be better spent addressing more plausible reasons that drive young men and women to take the extreme step. Faulty selection at the recruitment stage, lack of interest in a military career and just plain bad management of the forces are all to blame, as are bad service conditions, inadequate home leave, better options available to the youth and the communication gap between officers and men. It is an open secret that no efficient management system exists for redressing grievances in the armed forces, where seeking psychiatric help is invariably considered a stigma. With thousands of grievance cases reportedly pending in courts and service headquarters across the country, it’s no wonder that the delay adds to the stress levels of distressed personnel.

So it’s just as well that the defence ministry has tacitly acknowledged this by its recent decision to ensure prompt grievance redressal at the unit level. It has also done the right thing to initiate counselling and yoga classes to help soldiers cope with stress, and train religious teachers, junior commissioned officers of the Army Education Corps (AEC) and regimental medical officers in psychiatry and post them as psychological health mentors. Such measures need to be built upon if the armed forces are to breathe easy every time an aggrieved jawan or officer reaches a personal crossroads.