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Of Camp Killings and Suicides in Army

By Yoginder Kandhari

WE are witnessing an alarming increase in the incidents of killings and suicides by soldiers inside security forces' camps. Such a scenario does not augur well for overall health of the security forces especially so for the armed forces of the country. Recent cases of suicide by Capt Kohli, an incident made murkier by doubts raised about the veracity of official version of the cause of her death, and that by a woman officer reinforce the belief that there definitely is more amiss in the army than what meets the eye. Instead of diagnosing the problem, the political masters, army top brass and the media have deflected the core issues by debating and harping upon problems which are mundane and do not portray the real causes leading to such tragic incidents. Day in and day out, we hear about incidents of soldiers gunning down their superiors and colleagues in arms. The fact that this malaise within the army is not restricted only to combat zones should indeed raise heckles in the top echelons. Unfortunately, all inquiries into such incidents follow a doctored course leading to foretold conclusions. The core issues always remain unaddressed thus leading to more such tragic incidents with an uncanny regularity.

Army has been working under conditions of extreme stress for too long a period now. There is a mismatch between civilian perception of organizational stress and the actual implications such a condition has on army as an organization. Terms and conditions of army service steeped in autocratic mindset and backed by archaic rules and regulations are not at all in tune with the realities of social order obtaining now. Political masters do not wish to change anything within the army for fear of losing this 'magic' wand to exploit internal disorders, like insurgency situations, communal or class conflicts, to their own political advantage. Even bureaucrats manage to ensure that armed forces remain stifled under their toes to please their political bosses and at the same time satiate their exalted egos by commandeering generals to report.

Most army chiefs have been too eager to please their political masters and retain powerful bureaucrats on their side to gain plum post retirement assignments at the expense of organizational good. For about two decades now, almost seventy percent of the army is perpetually engaged in internal security duties. Nothing worthwhile has so for been done to improve conditions of service except for implementing General A.V. Singh Commission recommendations which have, in fact, only caused army to bloat around its waist, of course with attendant professional procrastination.

Such a situation is of Army's own making. It has not made any efforts to bring in changes in keeping with the demands of time. That precisely is the reason why army continues to limp with a shortage of about thirty thousand officers till date. These days, it is quite common to find officers perpetually employed in counter insurgency operations since their posting tenures alternate between their parent units and Rashtriya Rifles battalions in the same internal conflict zones. When the concept of raising Rashtriya Rifles was initially mooted by the central government, in wake of outbreak of insurgency in the Kashmir Valley, the then Army Chief is believed to have given an assurance to the government that the proposal would be put into shape within fifteen days from within the army's own resources. One can grant him that such a stand then was in national interest and Army Chief could have acted no differently than what he did, yet, one fails to understand why even subsequently no thought has been given to provide for additional manpower, especially in officers' cadre, for this force. Shortage of officers thus got compounded thereby increasing the dissatisfaction within this cadre. In this backdrop why should youth join army especially when numerous other lucrative career options are available? Opening the doors of army to women was one good option to offset this shortage. Unfortunately, such an option has been poorly planned and messed up as a consequence .Not- with-standing the apology tendered by the Vice Chief of Army, of course under immense pressure from women's groups, his comments about desirability of having women in the armed forces reveals the actual bias prevalent in the Army. Rather than concretizing it as option to reduce the shortage of officers and consequent reduction in stress levels within this cadre, such irresponsible statements only complicate the issue further. In such a situation work pressures are bound to increase which in turn trigger a steep drop in efficiency. Since operational matters get precedence over all other issues in army, effective man management is the first causality of any drop in efficiency. All these killings and suicides inside army camps are a manifestation of this neglect.

Inability of Army's top brass to stand up to political pressure often translates into awkward operational demands of the field commanders especially in insurgency situations. This pressure percolates down the line as illogical operational diktats which one can question only to one's peril. One is reminded of numerous instances wherein such diktats, bereft of tactical logic, cost the amy dearly in terms of cold murder of young and enthusiastic officers and men at the hands of militants. Without going into the details, one is compelled to allude to the killing of two young and dedicated officers and three other soldiers in cold blood by militants in Rajawar area of North Kashmir in 1994. They were launched on an operation which was tactically untenable and doomed to fail ab intio. Here the field commander was keen to show results to his superiors. These young heroes died unsung. This incident was hushed up with connivance of all up the channel. Such instances often lead to a psychology of desperation in a regimented routine. It only rubs further salt into wounds when people with such heinous attitudes are let free.

Camp shootings are mostly resorted to by other ranks who normally feel done in by poor management in units. JCO rank was designed to be an important cog in unit management. Unfortunately, present day JCOs do not measure up to this task. It may be pertinent to mention here that authorization of JCOs in units was doubled as a consequence of cadre review of persons below officers' ranks which was implemented about two decades back. Due thought was not given to this exercise before recommending it for implementation. In fact, it was a classic case of knee jerk reaction by Army in wake of nationwide police agitation then. Increase in authorization of JCOs in units lead to inexperienced men joining this cadre and such a situation continues till date. JCOs are intended to be problem solvers and not to be mere messengers between officers and men- a role they are increasingly performing these days. Hence the distance between men and officers is ever increasing which creates barriers to effective communication. Camp killings are a result of this gap in communication between officers and men. Recruitment of capable young men directly into JCO cadre could well be an answer to this problem. Army seems to dither on this proposal. This step would not only help in improving unit management to desirable levels and relive officers of routine administrative burden thereby reducing their stress level but would also provide a pool of trained manpower to make up the deficiency in officer cadre to some extent.

There is a general drop in moral standards in Army. Corruption, both moral and material, is rampant. Exposes highlighting issues like fake killings for gallantry awards, acts of espionage involving soldiers, illegal sale of petroleum products & canteen stores etc. are beamed on electronic media day in and day out. This disillusions the rank and file no end. Mostly only senior officers are caught in such scams, whether by coincidence or for greed, thus reducing the esteem of this echelon in the eyes of men in uniform. Army needs to spare a thought for its men burdened with domestic problems and working in exacting conditions of combat in an atmosphere vitiated by indifferent man managers and with only corrupt superiors to look up to. Such a situation is bound to drive anyone to despair and camp killings or suicides are compulsive consequences thereof. Army needs to refrain from justifying such a trend by drawing parallels with civil society. Army as an organization is a different ball game all together. Unchecked deterioration in moral standards in army, especially in face of a saturated internal conflict scenario, would cost the nation dearly in none too distant a future. Army has to put in a lot of effort to repair the damage caused to it. Killing sand suicides inside its camps are symptoms of a sick organization. These incidents should serve as a wake up call to all those who matter lest it may be too late to retrieve the situation.

Source: Kashmir Times, June 30th, 2006

  

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