Challenges facing Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) – Explained, pointwise

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Recently, four personnel of the 50th Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed by one of their colleagues. According to a study by the United Service Institution of India (USI), more than half of Indian Army personnel seem to be under severe stress. A high level of stress has contributed to the escalation of fratricide (the killing of one’s own forces in war) and suicide cases in armed forces.

About the issue of fratricide and Suicides in the armed forces
Fratricide and Suicides among tri-services

A total of 787 armed forces personnel died by suicide from 2014 to March 2021 with the Army reporting a maximum of 591 such cases. During the same period, suicides in the Navy stood at 36 and for the Indian Air Force, it was 160.

During the same period, 18 incidents of fratricide have happened in the Army and two in the Indian Air Force.

Fratricide and suicides among CAPF

As many as 18 deaths due to incidents of fratricide occured in CRPF alone in the last four years. The most recent one in September this year at Khagrachari post in Gomati district of Tripura which resulted in killing of two personnel of the Border Security Force (BSF).

Further, in 2019, 43 personnel committed suicide, with the figure touching 60 in 2020.

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What is the reason behind fratricide and suicides in the armed forces?

The reasons that contribute to the high level of stress are,

A large number of vacancies and associated issues: For instance, the vacancies in CAPFs were nearly a lakh as of January 1, 2019. This can (1). Affect the smooth functioning of the organisations; (2). Create a prolonged exposure of armed forces personnel to Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorism (CI/CT) environment; (3). Make it difficult for supervisory officers to send men on leave even twice a year; (4). Defence personnel cannot utilise their own leave. For instance, Defence personnel are entitled to 60 days of annual leave, apart from 30 days casual leave, while CAPF personnel are entitled to only 15 days casual leave, apart from 60 days earned leave.

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Challenges faced by Lower Rank Officials: They face issues such as excessive workload, domestic problems, non-availability of recreational facilities, lack of dignity in work, and conflict with seniors as well as subordinates, etc.

The personnel are transferred frequently to a new environment: These days, a third of the personnel of a battalion are transferred out. This adversely impacts their bonding with their colleagues. Over a decade ago, the battalions moved as one cohesive unit from one place to another.

The post of one Subedar major (SM) has not been fully used: it is a very important post because the SM keeps the battalion commanders in touch with the pulse of the men on various issues, the most important being the morale of men of the unit.

High stress will also lead to an increased number of incidents of indiscipline, unsatisfactory state of training, inadequate maintenance of equipment and low morale. This in turn affects the efficiency of armed forces.

What steps were taken to address fratricide and suicides in the armed forces?

The Army has put in place a multi-pronged strategy to address stress among its personnel.

The Indian Air Force is organising a quarterly ‘Mission Zindagi’ campaign to improve the personnel’s mental health and stress management through workshops and lectures.

The Indian Navy has established Mental Health Centres in Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Kochi, Port Blair, Goa and Karwar where family counsellors provide psychological counselling.

Apart from that, the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) is also conducting studies to help the government to work on stress amelioration amongst troops.

The CRPF has introduced the concept of holding “chaupals” where the personnel will be free to air their grievances in informal settings with senior officers.

What are the other steps taken to address the fratricide and suicides in the armed forces?

1. Brainstorming sessions are being held by senior officers; 2. Yoga was introduced in almost all the battalions over a decade back, but it had little effect; 3. Mobile numbers of senior officers are prominently displayed in recreation rooms and messes of the men, allowing them access for airing their grievances directly to senior officers; 4. Personnel are even allowed to seek personal interviews with senior officers to explain their problems and seek redressal.

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How to reduce fratricide and Suicides in the armed forces?

According to the United Service Institution of India (USI) report, Stress prevention and management should be treated “as a leadership role at Unit and Formation level”.

Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) has recommended the following steps to decrease stress among armed forces. These are, 1. Rationalizing grant of Leave, 2. Decrease workload and reduce the tenure of deployment, 3. Increase the pay and allowances, 4. Building better interpersonal relations between the officers and men, 5. Training programmes in stress management and 6. Enhancing basic and recreation activities. The government can implement them on an urgent basis.

The Restoration of the system of posting personnel in a battalion until they attain the rank of sub-inspectors will instil a sense of belonging and bonding among personnel.

Complete privacy should be ensured when personnel meet their senior officers so that they can come out with their domestic problems candidly.

For CAPF; 1. The post Subedar Major (SM) needs to be activated to avert such incidents; 2. Though the CRPF rules provide for the granting of the honorary posts to exceptionally deserving subedars/SMs, this perhaps has never been implemented. Conferment of such honorary ranks who do not make it to the posts of regular assistant commandants will boost their morale.

In conclusion, Fratricide and Suicides in armed forces have once again highlighted the need to overhaul the grievance redressal mechanism in the armed forces. Along with that, the armed services have to be strengthened with enough personnel to relieve them from stress and serve the nation with pride.

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