597 military personnel have committed suicide in last 5 years, government says

NEW DELHI: The suicide toll in the highly-disciplined armed forces continues to cross the 100-mark year after year despite all the so-called measures being undertaken by the defence establishment to reduce stress among soldiers.

As many as 597 military personnel committed suicide in 5 years between 2009 and 2013.

Disclosing these figures in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, defence minister Arun Jaitely said, “The government has taken various measures to create an appropriate environment for defence personnel, so that they can perform their duty without any mental stress.”

These measures, said Jaitley, include improvement in living and working conditions through provision of better infrastructure and facilities, additional family accommodation, liberalized leave policy, a grievance redressal mechanism, psychological counseling and conduct of yoga and meditation as part of a battalion or unit’s routine.

But the steps do not seem to be working very well on the ground.

In the Army, by far the largest of the three services, for instance, 116 soldiers committed suicide in 2010, 105 in 2011 and 95 in 2012. Last year, while 86 soldiers committed suicide, the figure for airmen and sailors stood at 15 and 6.

As reported by TOI earlier, stress-related cases in the shape of suicides and “fragging” (to kill or wound a fellow-soldier or superior) incidents have shown no signs of abating, and often also lead to disquiet and “clashes” between officers and jawans.

Soldiers posted in far-flung areas often undergo tremendous mental stress for not being able to take care of the problems being faced by their families back home, which could range from property disputes and harassment by anti-social elements to financial and marital problems.

While prolonged deployment in counter-insurgency operations in J&K and northeast also takes a toll on the physical endurance and mental health of soldiers, it’s compounded by poor salaries, lack of basic amenities, ineffectual leadership and sometimes humiliation at the hands of their officers.

Though former defence minister AK Antony had repeatedly asked state chief ministers and Union Territory lieutenant governors to make their civil district administrations more responsive to grievances of soldiers and their families, the situation remains almost the same.

“One of the biggest worries for jawans is the hardships their families face … civil administrators do not pay much attention to their problems,” said an officer.

source: TOI | TNN | Jul 22, 2014, 07.08 PM IST

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