Editor's Note: The Indian Army has witnessed 1,100 suicides between 2010-2020, with Personnel Below Officer Ranks (PBOR) comprising over 90% of this tragic statistic. This analysis by Colonel PK Mehershi (Retd), the author of the Indian Army's 2007 study on troop 'suicides and fratricides', commissioned by then Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General JJ Singh, summarises the findings of the inhouse study. The numbers presented have since risen however the general observations, in light of recent studies still hold relevance and is worth some deep introspection by policy makers.
There have been 310 cases of Suicides and Fratricides in the Army since 2014. This averages to about 103 cases per year, which is high if not alarming by any means. There have been ‘N’ number of studies commissioned to study these tragic occurrences but not much has been done on ground to avoid these ever-increasing numbers.
Since majority of the cases (62%) are between 25-30 years of age, it is a national loss, as much time, effort and money has been spent in their selection, training & mustering. Also these are young deaths, in the prime of their youth with considerable amount of Military training imbibed by them.
Suicide in the India Army is of the following types: -
- Pre-Mediated Suicide – certain degree of planning and time lag in execution.
- Impulsive Suicide – at the spur of the moment because of a trigger in the environment.
- Attempt to Suicide – an attempt which has gone awry, may result in deep bodily/mental scars.
- Homicide with Suicide – killing of another human being (colleague or a senior) and then committing suicide to overcome guilt.
The mental condition of a suicidal person is of self-hatred, rejection, and hopelessness. He feels isolated from others, is blinded by anguish and a sense of disconnection and is in a desperate state because he is suffering from Psych-ache and suffering from immense pain mentally and he wants this pain to stop. Persons who are at immense risk are:-
- Persons who remain depressed.
- Persons suffering from Bipolar disorder.
- Adverse life events (divorce, job loss etc)
- Extreme Humiliation (in public)
- Loss of Face.
- Regular verbal taunts by fellow soldiers.
- Denial of Leave (in some extreme cases)
- Abusive language (in public, specific ethnicity)
Even during the act of attempting suicide there is ambivalence (should I or I should not) No human being wants life to end, what a suicidal person is looking for is an alternative to suicide, a glimmer of hope, something which will help the pain being felt to stop/they want to stop being hurt.
"The victims usually have been Platoon Havaldars who pass direct orders to troops for certain night duties on the posts in Field Areas, where an individual feels wronged or overburdened with respect to duties."
In a military context, fratricide refers to a service member killing a comrade. We have assigned different terms to this act, like Soldier Running Amok (SRA), multiple fratricide, etc if there is more than one killing. Fragging is a term from the
The Vietnam War, it most commonly meant to assassinate an unpopular member of one’s own fighting unit by dropping a fragmentation grenade into the victim’s tent at night. A fragging victim could also be killed by intentional friendly fire during combat.
In our context the victims usually have been Platoon Havaldars/Havaladar Majors who pass direct orders to troops for certain night duties on the posts in Field Areas, where an individual feels wronged or overburdened with respect to distribution/detailment of duties.
Other reasons are: -
- Extreme Humiliation.
- Loss of face in Public.
- Use of mobile on duty (being checked)
- Ethnicity of Troops (generally North Indian Troops)
- Non- Regimented Units.
- Extroverts more prone for Fratricide (service profile around 10 years)
- In some cases denial of Leave.
Understanding of major stressors in the Army which can trigger suicide/fratricide is of extreme importance by Commanders at all levels, these in brief are:-
- Lack of Social Support (family, friends, relatives, peers & seniors)
- Inter personal relations.
- Long Suffering illness (Cancer, HIV/AIDS)
- Sex/Sexual problems (impotence/infertility)
- Alcohol/Substance abuse.
- Employment on demeaning/menial tasks.
- Extra marital relations (individual/spouse)
- Lack of Child (Issue-less)
- Verbal/Emotional/Physical abuse
- Extreme Humiliation.
Remedial action falls in three distinct categories: -
- Change Thinking (Reframing/Positive Thinking)
- Change Behavior ( Assertion/Ventilation /Humour)
- Change Life style (Balanced Diet, Exercise, and Meditation. Deep Breathing, Yoga, Imagery, Music, Sleep and Leisure)
The Unit RT should be trained in basic Counseling techniques, other than this individual each unit must detail an Officer as Unit Counselor who should be available 24/7 in Field Areas and at Fixed times in the unit Library wherein anyone can come & meet him with their problem/issues.
Entire functionality of implementing Coping skills is two-fold viz:-
- Organizational Level: (Stress Audit of Units once a year, Stress Management Training Programs, Pre-Induction Psychological tests of recruits, Improve organizational Climate, Improve Training, Address shortage of Officers issue in Units)
- Individual Level: (Instill Psychological Hardiness, Cognitive restructuring, Cognitive coping, Behavioral Self Control, Relaxation, Exercise, Yoga, Recreation & Spiritual dimension)
In India every year we lose nearly a Company size strength to this dangerous trend due to utter callousness & neglect by the system. Can we all pay our undivided attention to this important Command function and gradually bring down this bone chilling statistic of Suicides & Fratricides in the Military?
Unfortunately, about 40 recommendations given by the undersigned during the course of researching this important topic in 2007 in the Army across 26 locations & sampling 1100 men in J&K across different terrains/locations, Peace/ Field/ LoC/CI Grid & from all regions of the country from different Units has yielded no substantial results. The report is gathering dust in ADG (DV) as this was the nodal agency controlling this study (commissioned then by the COAS with self as the solo Head cum Member)
A few concrete recommendations are: -
- All India Psychometric Test for PBOR (pre-induction)
- Recruit Training (Psychological Hardiness)
- Breaking in of Green Horn recruits in units to be well planned.
- Sound redressal mechanism in units.
- Remove caste/village networks at troop level for promotions/duties.
- Improve living standards.
- Schooling of Children.
- Insensitivity of Civil Officials when approached for problem solving.
- Frequency/Role mismatch (RR units: recent case of Fratricide was in a RR unit in the Valley)
- Communication Gap (also due to shortage of Officers)
- For Officers lay stress on Moral Quotient also.
It is most unfortunate for a nation to lose a well-trained national asset in the prime of youth. In India every year we lose nearly a Company size strength to this dangerous trend due to utter callousness & neglect by the system. Can we all pay our undivided attention to this important Command function and gradually bring down this bone chilling statistic of Suicides & Fratricides in the Military?
About the Author
Colonel PK “Royal” Mehrishi (Retd), completed solo, a unique research project for the Army HQ at the behest of COAS, Gen JJ Singh in March 2007. His is a pioneering study on this topic as he served the Infantry for 28 years and is also a qualified Clinical Psychologist from Rajasthan University. His views are of a Scholar-Soldier who understands the nuances from both sides of the divide.