New Delhi: There has been a 55 per cent increase in the number of suicides among Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel over the last five years, data accessed by ThePrint has shown.
In 2020, as on 17 November, there had been 45 cases of suicides in the CRPF, including a trooper who shot himself with his service rifle in the Wadodara area of Sopore, Kashmir, earlier this week.
The number of suicides among CRPF personnel stood at 29 in 2016, according to data from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which handles the affairs of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs). In 2017, 2018 and 2019, the numbers were 38, 36 and 42, respectively.
Of the 45 suicides in 2020, 13 took place in Jammu & Kashmir, seven in the Northeast, 10 in areas affected by Left-wing extremism (LWE), and 15 in other parts of the country.
Officially, the government has identified “personal and domestic problems” as the main reasons behind the suicides.
In 2018, responding to a question in Parliament about suicides in the CAPFs, then Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju had said, “The causative factors in most of the cases were found to be generally the personal and domestic problems, like marital discord, personal enmity, mental illness, depression etc.”
Speaking to ThePrint, a CRPF officer agreed. “The reasons are mostly personal,” he said. “The stress levels are high due to marital discord, etc. These days, the presence of social media also throws up problems. Everything that is happening at home is immediately known to the jawan, who cannot go back home, leading to depression and helplessness,” the officer added. “Back in the day, there was not this kind of 24×7 distraction.”
ThePrint contacted CRPF spokesperson M. Dinakaran through text message and call for a comment on the suicides, but there was no reply.
‘A high-stress job’
CRPF veterans say personnel of the force work in tough conditions but their mental health doesn’t get much attention.
“The stress levels in the CRPF are much higher than those in the Army. Yet, while the Army has a full-fledged directorate that analyses causes of mental health issues, conducts research and offers counselling to jawans, there is nothing of this sort in the CRPF or any CAPF,” said S.S. Sandhu, who retired as Inspector General of the CRPF.
“When I was at the helm of the training division, I had proposed an Army-like institution for the CRPF, but the proposal did not see the light of the day,” he added.
Elaborating on the working conditions, Sandhu said CRPF troops are moved across the country with little training or preparation.
“The dramatic changes in weather conditions, security conditions, etc, coupled with the lack of basic facilities like proper accommodation, few leaves, etc result in debilitating stress for these officers.”
The leave factor is believed to play a major role in driving personnel to the edge. CRPF personnel up to the rank of commanding officer (CO) are currently entitled to 60 days of earned leave and 15 days of casual leave a year in operationally active areas like J&K, Northeast and LWE-affected pockets. In comparison, Army personnel get 28 days of casual leave every year, while the number of earned leaves is the same.
In a bid to tackle the issue of denial of leave, which is seen as a major cause of stress, Home Minister Amit Shah said last year the government is working on a proposal to ensure 100 days of leave for all CAPF jawans.
“I do not know when we will be able to implement it fully. But we are trying to have a system where our jawans have at least 100 days of leave in a year… We believe if our jawans are protecting the country, it is the duty of the government to take care of them and to protect their families,” Shah had said.
However, almost a year into the announcement, the proposal awaits implementation.
Additionally, the government last year came up with a set of guidelines for a compulsory 15-day mental health orientation course for the forces to detect early signs and symptoms of mental illness among personnel.
During his reply to Parliament in 2018, Rijiju had proposed incorporating Yoga as a way to “beat stress” in order to bring down the rates of suicide.
Talking about the steps taken to track troopers’ mental health, the CRPF officer quoted above said, “There is a buddy system, too, that is in place, where two jawans are supposed to share issues with each other, and if any signs of depression are there, the ‘buddy’ is supposed to inform commanders.”
“There is periodic counselling also, especially when they come back from their homes.”
However, an officer deployed in Kashmir said, “These steps are unfortunately meaningless when you don’t pay heed to concrete steps. In the Army, for example, there is a dedicated directorate to look into welfare issues of the jawans. There is also a secretary-level officer who is responsible for affairs of welfare of retired jawans. But in the CAPFs, once you have retired, there is little help extended to you. All these issues contribute to the stress.”
But not everyone sees it as a problem unique to the CRPF. “Suicide is a problem of society, it is incorrect to limit it to any force or organisation…” said Joginder Singh, a retired IG-level CRPF officer. “If someone is working as a soldier, they cannot expect the life of a school teacher or a bank employee.”