Soldiers' suicides and AFSPA

By Ravi Nitesh. Dated: 5/13/2016 11:22:14 PM

On May 2, 2016, Manohar Parrikar, the Defense Minister stated in Lok Sabha that 77 members of Army have committed suicide in the year 2015. Data for previous years is 84 in 2014 and 86 in 2013. He also informed that in these three years, 9 cases of fratricide were reported in army itself. Later on 3rd May, Minister of State in Monistry of Home Affairs also informed that in Central Armed Police Forces, data shows 38 suicides in CRPF in 2015, 27 in BSF and 11 in Assam Rifles alone in 2015.
Defence Ministry and Home Ministry accepted that government has taken various measures to reduce stress and to prevent such incidents. Some of the measures include improvement in living and working conditions through provision of better infrastructure and facilities, additional family accommodation, liberalised leave policy, establishing grievance redressal system, provision of counselling by psychological counsellors, yoga and meditation etc.
With this acceptance, it is very much clear that soldiers are subjected to a lifestyle where stress can move them to commit suicide and even force them to kill their colleagues. If this is the case, then why it is hard to accept that the same stress can result in killing of others? And, what if these 'others' may belong to a group of protesters in areas like J&K and North East, where even such doing is under the ambit of (mis)utilising powers they are equipped with?
If we see the data of fatalities (not suicide or fratricide) of security personal on duty, we find that a total of 193, 161 and 155 security persons lost their lives in the years 2013, 2014 and 2015. This record includes all security force personnel including paramilitary staff.
It is clear with comparison of both the data that India is losing at least 70% of its personnel without a fight or due to 'system sickness' with respect to fatalities on duty. With such a huge military service where Indian army is one of the largest in the world, such conditions only prove that there is a greater need of improvement.
Government must focus on the procedure of deployment of army personnel and adopt a humanitarian approach with facilities for them. If such a high rate of suicide will prevail within army, this itself is a human rights violations of soldiers as if there is such an intensity among them to suicide, it is a matter of grave concern. There is also a possibility that with such intensity, their stress buster can be any innocent person as well.
There have also been many cases reports of soldiers violating human rights of even extreme nature. Such human rights violations in areas with applicability of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) are very common and ranges from torture to rape and even fake killings. Security agencies (of Govt of India) did not admit such violations easily and claim that soldiers who are doing this are actually innocent as they have not done anything wrong. It is a fact that many investigations conducted even by Government's own appointed committee have proved that the accused persons (soldiers) were guilty, but as they are members of defence and working under the powers of AFSPA, they have not been subjected to any prosecution in civil courts.
Government must start doing its effort to make a peaceful environment. Revocation of AFSPA is required from the side of government else there would be traditional impunity to security forces which they would enjoy, may be even to release stress. On the other hand, provisions should be made to protect human rights of soldiers also and to protect them from committing suicides due to stress factors of duty.
(The author is freelance writer, Human Rights Activist, Convener- Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign for Repeal AFSPA and can be reached at Twitter/ravinitesh www.ravinitesh.blogspot. in )



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