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Now BSF jawan commits suicide

By FnF Correspondent | PUBLISHED: 21, Dec 2010, 12:28 pm IST | UPDATED: 21, Dec 2010, 13:17 pm IST

Now BSF jawan commits suicide

Jammu: A BSF jawan today allegedly committed suicide in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir, officials said.

Head Constable Mohmmad Aslam of 94 BSF battalion, who was on guard duty at forward 430 post on the Line of Control in Balnoie belt of Poonch district, committed suicide by shooting himself with his service rifle around 0530 hours this morning, BSF sources said.

A court of inquiry has been ordered into the incident, they said.

A day earlier, a CRPF jawan allegedly committed suicide by shooting himself with his service rifle in Anantnag district of south Kashmir.

According to officials, Head constable Omar Prakash of 163rd battalion CRPF was on duty at Verinag camp, 80 kms from here, when he shot himself with his service rifle last evening.

In the past few years, the central police forces (CPFs)—comprising the BSF, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), National Security Guard (NSG), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Assam Rifles and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB)—have been reversing rifles at themselves at an alarming rate.

Last year, 113 men of the seven-lakh-strong CPFs committed suicide. The two-lakh-strong BSF, for instance, reported 44 suicides last year—a rate double that of the national civilian average of 12 suicides per one lakh people. Thirty men from the 2.67 lakh-strong CRPF committed suicide last year while 10 killed themselves in the last six months alone. Last year, the force reported 10 fratricides—the highest in its history—while two cases have been reported this year.

“Suicides are a major cause for concern. Unfortunately, all our present recruitment policy is too physically oriented, we have no psychological tests to see whether a recruit can take prolonged separation from his family, which our service entails,” says Ashish Kumar Mitra, director-general, BSF.

The army has a fairly low suicide rate of nine per one lakh. It took the 13-lakh-strong Indian Army two years and over 100 soldier deaths a year to realise it was losing more soldiers to suicides than to militancy. It is now studying the findings of the recently submitted report by the Defence Institute of Psychological Research.

However, there have been no such comprehensive studies on suicides within the paramilitaries and hence no understanding of the problem. A few key trends emerge from an internal study recently conducted by the BSF.

In over 70 per cent of the cases, the jawan had killed himself after a conversation with his family, either through a PCO or a cellular phone, indicating that domestic discord induced stress. “Cheaper call costs mean that family members are more accessible, but also that the jawan is given a regular update on all the domestic problems and stressed by his inability to help resolve disputes,” says a senior BSF official. In over 70 per cent of the cases, the suicide occurred after the jawan had returned to work from leave.

The maximum number of suicides were committed by married personnel—33 in 2004-05 as compared to 18 cases of unmarried jawans killing themselves. A majority of the deceased were in the age group 18-25, or soon after recruitment, and in the 31-40 age bracket, or soon after marriage and children.

However, there are no signs that the Home Ministry, under which the CPFs function, has woken up to the seriousness of the issue.

The paramilitary forces say that stress—in the form of abysmal work conditions, atomised lives, long hours of work, constant mobility, marital disharmony, coupled with a constant threat to life—is the single biggest challenge they are facing. “The constant social pressures compounded by work pressure, loneliness and inability to meet one’s family frequently lead to suicides,” says a senior BSF official.

Despite mirroring the army’s counter-insurgency and border-guarding responsibilities in the north and North-east, the paramilitaries say they have none of the support mechanisms, accommodation and welfare measures provided to army personnel.

 The army’s concept of peace-time posting allows for rest after a two-year field posting to spend time with family. On the other hand, there is no respite for the paramilitary forces, which are stretched thin with counter-insurgency commitments and border postings.

A CRPF battalion is made of seven companies comprising 75 men each. A company is rested for two months in a year, allowing jawans to spend time with their families. However, in the past two years, this rest has been availed by only 10 per cent of the force. Counter-insurgency commitments ensure that an average jawan remains with his family only for six years in his 35-year career.

The modernisation of the paramilitary has been restricted to upgrading equipment, arms and ammunition. Some of the force’s most pressing requirements—that of accommodation in different states—are yet to be taken care of. Only 12 per cent of the jawans’ families have housing, as compared to a government target of at least 25 per cent.

Jawans on duty are billeted in inhuman conditions, usually godowns or schools provided by the state government. Most of these billets, where jawans end up living for years, don’t even have toilet facilities. BSF troopers have to cope with prolonged periods of loneliness on the border.

“It is time they knocked the ‘reserve’ off the CRPF; we are stretched so thin that we have absolutely no reserves,” says a CRPF official. Eighty seven per cent of the force is actively deployed in counter-insurgency operations—39 per cent in Jammu and Kashmir, 29 per cent in the North-east and 19 per cent in fighting Naxals in interior India. They are also requisitioned for riot control.

These deployments mean long working hours, usually at weeks on end. Adding to the jawan’s sense of helplessness is the Centre’s recent decision to abolish pensions for recruits joining after 2004 (which the army is exempt from). This means a deceased jawan’s family will only receive an ex-gratia amount of Rs 3 lakh.

“Overall, there has been a lowering of morale and decreasing commitment to the national causes among the paramilitary forces,” says Prakash Singh, former DG, BSF. “When a jawan is confronted with these causes, he sometimes chooses to kill himself.”

A raft of measures has been introduced over the past year—yoga classes, recreation facilities and games —to de-stress personnel. Over 30,000 men will take part in Art of Living classes this year. The Home Ministry hopes the paramilitary will get the message, but clearly the effect is yet to be felt.