The gunning down of five Sikkim Police personnel in Delhi by one of their colleagues points to that specially unsavoury arena of internecine violence: the individual cracking under extreme pressure. In this case, the killer, Constable Nari Lepcha, mowed down his colleagues after being threatened with sexual assault. All six of them were on deputation from Sikkim. While the cause of the alcohol-fuelled violence — both the sexual threat as well as the resultant killings — can be found in textbook psychology (repressed surroundings, lack of recreational facilities, living in frustrating circumstances, including away from family and home), the fact that similar incidents of violence and rage running amok are occurring with increased frequency makes one ask the moot question: is there anything being done to check this disturbing phenomenon?
The armed forces work according to the concept of a chain of command. This hierarchical ‘daisy-chain’ is essentially a command-and-control mechanism that carries responsibility and accountability up and down the ladder. With forces such as the Sikkim Police scattered across the country to bolster the nation’s security requirements, the chain of command is often broken. In this ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ scenario, personnel can become powers unto themselves. The lack of a proper redressal system not only plagues the paramilitary but the military itself — as is evident by the fact that most of the 23 cases of fratricide or ‘fragging’ last year have taken place in Jammu and Kashmir and in the North-east.
Any solution to this serious problem will have to involve engaging two strategies: one, conditions to alleviate extreme stress must be made available. Bad pay, poor living conditions and administrative problems related to matters such as leave and lack of counselling can take their toll on the most disciplined of forces. At the same time, improved personnel management and easy access to senior officers who are aware of the challenges and sympathetic to the problems, must be enforced. To be under threat, from colleagues or from circumstances, and be armed is a dangerous combination that one can ill afford to underplay.