Increasing Suicide Rate in the Indian Army - A Destructive Intangible
The International Human Rights Day (December 10) has passed and the controversial "India Citizenship Bill" has also been passed by the Indian Rajya Sabha (Council of States/Senate). It has been more than four months since August 05, 2019 when the current Indian government led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) abrogated Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution and imposed a tyrannical curfew in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) on the pretext of controlling the deteriorating law & order situation in the state.
The world, however, apart from a few articles and reports in international dailies and statements by some international leaders and institutions have done nothing but watched in silence the havoc being wreaked by the Indian occupying forces in IOK. A US Congressional hearing on Kashmir in November 2019 was predicted as a major development regarding Kashmir but unfortunately, it yielded nothing more than formal statements urging India to end the lock down.
The Indian annexation of Jammu & Kashmir (Indian Occupied) has not only escalated the already deteriorated relations between the two nuclear armed neighbours (Pakistan & India) and put millions of lives at stake but it is also a clear violation of all international and bilateral agreements. This has further complicated the oldest dispute on United Nations' (UN) agenda. Such Indian confidence is clearing stemming out because of two integral pivots, economy and military.
The Indian economy has made big strides in the recent past and is making uniform progress in the contemporary times. Virtually, the economy is playing a major part in forming the current Indian policy orientation but it is the military muscle which is being flexed at the moment by the Indian government to propagate its aggressive posture and implement its agenda in the region, especially IOK.
Although it might seem that the Indian military is well on its way to becoming an invincible force due to the Indian Government's huge military spending and the increase in the size of forces but there is more to it than what meets the eye. The Indian military is extremely over-stretched, ill-equipped and demoralised. Being overworked and ill-equipped are problems that can easily be dealt with. The point of being demoralised is the real problem which needs special attention and a long time span to be dealt with.
Any military force in the world cannot carry any successful campaign if it is not properly and whole-heatedly supported by its masses. Every soldier needs a valid and justified reason in order to put his/her life on the line and if that "purpose" is missing, then fighting without a reason is just a suicide that is waiting to happen. Similar problems of alienation can take place as a result of conducting activities which are atrocious and abusive because such behaviour is desisted and resisted by any normal human being. After all, soldiers are human beings. And this is where the problem lies with the Indian military.
Currently, 900,000 Indian occupying forces have been deployed in IOK along with the local police force. It ultimately makes IOK the most militarized zone in the world. The US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan touched 100,000 troops at the peak of their operations. The Indian occupying forces in IOK have been carrying out atrocities by deploying oppressive tactics to squash voices of independence and self-determination.
According to Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (human rights group), from 2008 till 2018, the Indian occupying forces killed 4,059 Kashmiris in the name of separatist violence. From 1989 till 2008, approximately 47,000 Kashmiris were killed in separatist violence, according to estimates provided by the Indian government. Various human rights groups and NGOs predict the death toll to be even higher. The use of rape as a weapon by the Indian occupying forces has been a norm in IOK since decades. Thousands of innocent Kashmiris have been permanently blinded and/or terminally injured by the extensive use of pellet guns. Illegal abductions of young Kashmiri people along with extra-judicial killings of countless Kashmiri youth has become a routine in IOK. The discoveries of mass graves across the Kashmir valley further validate the point of indiscriminate murders of innocent Kashmiris by Indian occupying forces. The year 2018 was declared the deadliest year of the decade for IOK but 2019 proved to be deadlier as the year reaches its end, bypassing last year.
Regardless of duty orders and professional obligations, being a part (direct or indirect) of such atrocious and inhuman activities is bound to have a major affect on the psychology and emotional well-being of Indian military personnel. Especially when it is a well-known fact that a people of IOK and a large portion of the Indian population are non-supportive and apprehensive about the role and activities of Indian occupying force in IOK.
According to statistics published by India's Ministry of Defence (MoD), one person on duty from armed forces commits suicide every three days. Indian Defence Ministry statistics also reveal that suicide rate has been increasing (especially in the army) despite several measures taken by the government to address this issues such as yoga, counselling, resolution of personal grievances and other mental health support programmes.
As per MoD's statistics, from 2010 - 2013, a total of 597 army personnel committed suicide. During the last six years, approximately 700 personnel of the Central Armed Police Forces have committed suicide and the rate of voluntary retirement is approximately 9,000 personnel per year. About 134 Border Security Force (BSF) personnel took their own lives during the period from 2012 - 2015.
A shocking revelation is the fact that 40% of women of the Indian Army which are rarely deputed on combat duty in the paramilitary forces committed suicides. Majority of the suicides in the Indian military are reported from IOK region and north-east India.
The Indian MOD attributed majority of the suicide cases in the military to fragging (killing of one officer, mainly senior rank by his/her junior officer) and suicides due to family or personal issues. But here, the peaceful sit-in by ex-servicemen earlier in 2019 is of utmost significance here. The ex-servicemen claimed categorically outlined all their demands and the problems which they are facing in their service. That highlighted the real underlying problem of the destructive intangibles that the Indian military is facing at the moment despite all the drama propagated by Indian civilian and military leadership to portray Indian military as a formidable force capable of fighting multi-pronged wars which evidently is a far-cry from reality.
The demands of ex-servicemen included the demand for parity between commissioned and non-commissioned officers (NCOs).
Abolishment of ancillary services and the system of untouchability and ghetto practised in the armed forces as well as elimination of batmanship. Restructuring of the army by modernising it in a professional manner and abolishing its colonial roots along with abolition of VVIP racism in the armed forces. And last but not the least, providing a safe platform to the NCOs so that they could report their officers and corruption where ever necessary (whistle-blower protection).
Now, if the Indian military, especially the army is analysed objectively, there is a lot for the Indian leadership and policy-makers to worry about. The situation looks grimmer vis-a-vis the IOK. Decades long deployment, non-availability of a motivating factor (point to be noted, Indian Army in IOK has been deployed in suppression mode), a hostile public in the region, harsh terrain more suitable for the freedom fighters, weather acclimatization issues and handling heavy logistics, all add up to create an existential problem for the Indian Army in IOK and making it harder for the force to achieve any success in the region.
This situation creates further uncertainty for the Indian military vis-a-vis Pakistan in case a kinetic conflict erupts between the two neighbours. The latter maintains a small, cohesive military force which has been battle hardened after fighting a war against terrorism for more than 18 years. The war against terrorism has turned the Pakistani military into an aggressive force with strong structure and high morale. Religious and cultural homogeneity between Pakistan and IOK is also a plus point in favour of Pakistan.
India does enjoy a better international standing and has better economy combined with a large military force but it is the application of strength on ground that enables a state to establish its writ which India is miserably failing to do in IOK, hence resorting to oppressive and tyrannical tactics mentioned earlier.
Rather than chest-thumping and displaying fake machismo for political point-scoring, the Indian civilian and military leadership should focus on the internal issues that its military is facing at the moment. Mere optics will only help in creating a false sense of security and superiority. The events that unfolded on February 27, 2019 were a clear example of that.
Militaries are maintained for the purpose of protection and defence. Rather than misleading the masses, the Indian leadership should reassess its military's condition and stop avoiding the real reasons behind the declining quality of life of its soldiers. It should realise that the real reason behind fragging and suicides in the Indian military is not only because of the soldiers' personal issues but other important factors as well such as muffled frustration at killing innocent people.