Rajat Pandit, 30 Oct, 2006 TIMES NEWS NETWORK
NEW DELHI: Will somebody in the Army brass wake up? Fragging – to wound or kill a fellow soldier – can no longer be brushed under the carpet by dismissing it as "an isolated phenomenon", with yet another soldier opening fire on his colleagues in J&K on Saturday night.
Consider a few of the chilling episodes in recent days:
September 13: Naik Ravi Kumar pumps eight bullets from his AK assault rifle into Major Harsh Kumar of 38 Rashtriya Rifles, killing him on the spot, at a forward post at Thanamandi in Rajouri district of J&K.
October 21: Sepoy S K Rabha shoots dead three of his colleagues, havaldars Chandra Bhan and G Galliah, and sepoy Nikhil Kumar, and injures two others with his service weapon in Naria area of Rajouri district.
October 23: Naik R Lingum, serving in 60 Rashtriya Rifles, shoots dead his colleagues Sunil Kumar and K C Thakur during a "road opening operation'' at Kewal in Budhal area of J&K. Lingum then turns the rifle on himself to commit suicide.
October 28: Signalman Satyam Kumar opens fire from his 5.56 mm INSAS rifle to kill havaldar Padamrajan and grievously wound sepoy Balwan Singh at an Army camp in Rehambal area in Udhampur district.
The Army may not like to admit it but the mental stress and physical fatigue under which its soldiers work in counter-insurgency operations is being reflected in the steadily increasing number of fragging, suicide, assault and affray cases in the 1.13-million strong force.
Considering the fact that as many as 100 soldiers commit suicide every year and that there have been around 200 cases of violence within the ranks since 2002, it is quite evident the Army needs to drastically revamp its stress management processes.
"Posting a few additional psychiatrists to the Northern and Eastern Commands in J&K and Northeast, as was recently announced, will just not do. Counsellors are needed at every level, with regular rest and recuperation sessions for soldiers to take care of the debilitating stress," said a senior officer.
"Despite the heavy commitment in counter-insurgency duties, battalions need to be regularly rotated between peace and field postings to ensure stressed-out troops get rejuvenated. The government, of course, should not drag the Army into handling Naxalism as well," he added.
Forced to stay far away from their homes, jawans certainly need to get proper housing, good career prospects and pay hikes. Then, of course, battalion and company commanders have to get down to the basics once again, keeping a close tab on the troops under their command with proper "reporting" and "feedback" systems in the units.
"Lack of good leadership makes the already stressful environment even worse. Channels of communication should always be open between senior and junior officers as well as officers and jawans," said a Colonel.
"With the constant pressure from the Army brass to deliver results, all these things sometimes come together to make a lethal cocktail," he added.