Defence and Security

For the army to be an effective fighting machine, mental health of soldiers must be a priority

Aug 14, 2017
When it comes to proclaiming their admiration for the Indian Army, our political parties tend to outdo each other. In fact, any criticism of the Army, even when valid, is usually seen as a sign of subversion by our hyper nationalists. Yet, the very real problems the forces face are often left unaddressed, a significant one being stress-related deaths in the form of suicides or fratricides.
 
Since 2014, according to a defence ministry submission in Parliament, 310 officers have committed suicide and 11 cases of fratricide were reported in this period. The Army works in extremely difficult conditions even in peacetime. It is called out far too often to quell civil unrest, something which should not be in its remit unless in extreme circumstances.
 
The hierarchies in the forces are rigid and do not encourage those from the lower ranks to express themselves freely. Those in hardship postings or facing civil strife work for months on end without leave or proper sleep and food, exacerbating mental disorientation and illness. On and off, jawans have complained about their working conditions, but the response has often been to discipline the ‘errant’ soldier. The welfare of the Army should be a matter of much more concern to the political class given that it has to guard hostile borders with at least two countries. Spending months away from their homes also contributes to a sense of loneliness and disconnectedness. Soldiers often have to live in different cultural milieus to their own.
 
The Army should have far more counselors on hand as well as psychiatric help. It should not be seen as a disadvantage for a soldier to seek such help, in fact it should be encouraged. They should be assured that this will not lead to them facing any discrimination. The Army should undertake more regular psychiatric evaluations of personnel and intervene if required. The issue of post-traumatic stress disorder is talked about a lot with relation to the US military, but in India soldiers facing hostile circumstances, as for example in Kashmir, are rarely treated for this once they leave the theatre of operations. For the Army to be an effective fighting machine, the mental health of its soldiers must be a priority. Mere lip service to the glory of the Army will do little to make things easier for soldiers whose task is unenviable even in the best of times.
 
Hindustan Times, August 14, 2017

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