A Defence Ministry commissioned study is trying to assess and address stress levels among young Army officers and jawans to minimise cases of suicide and fratricide

Imagine the plight of a jawan who has to guard the frontier day and night, keeping utmost vigil on the border and at the same time battling the vagaries of nature. From the sand dunes of Rajasthan to the snowy heights of the Siachen glacier and the tough hilly terrain of the north-eastern region, the jawan can never afford to let his guard down even as he faces pangs of separation from his family and at times is also isolated from the company of his fellow soldiers. Similar is the situation for young Army officers posted in such hostile environs.

This tough call of duty often takes its toll in the form of increasing stress levels among the jawans and other Army personnel and drives them to take extreme steps like suicide. In the last 10 years, a total of 1,018 Army personnel, including some officers, have committed suicide.

Against the backdrop of suicides and face-offs between officers and jawans, Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony had ordered a study last December into the stress level encountered by young officers of the Army and asked the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to develop methods to mitigate it.

The study, which is being carried out by the Capital-based Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR), will take stock of the stress level and its profile among the young officers who have already spent five to six years in the establishment. The study is likely to be completed by the end of this year.

The DIPR has, in the past too, carried out a number of studies on the stress level of Army personnel. In December 2006, it conducted a study on suicide and fratricide in counter-insurgency areas; in March 2008, it did an impact analysis of the study in counter insurgency areas and in December 2009, it conducted a study on suicide and fratricide in peace areas.

The main objectives of the present study are to determine the level of distress prevailing among the young officers, to study the causal factors that create the distress and deplete their resources to cope with it. It will also suggest remedial measures to manage stress among young officers.

The government has also taken a number of steps to reduce the stress of defence personnel which includes introducing yoga and meditation as part of unit routine, psychological counselling, liberalised leave policy, improvement in living and working conditions, and frequent interaction among them, providing married accommodation and establishing a grievance redressal mechanism in States and Union Territories and conducting various training programmes on stress management.

The stress level of young officers is very different from that of the jawans and those who have already spent a considerable time in uniform, official sources say. The Army has been deployed in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East for nearly five decades now. Young officers are the ones who lead the troops on the ground while carrying out these operations there.

In the initial years of their service, the young officers are put under rigorous training regimes for future roles and are also exposed extensively to operational environments in field areas. Man-management is also one of the responsibilities of the officers. In recent times, there have been several cases where young officers and jawans have been engaged in face-offs.

In Nyoma in Ladakh last year, officers and jawans had come to blows after alleged misbehaviour of a young officer with a soldier during a firing practice session allegedly in the presence of their wives.

In another incident, soldiers of an armoured unit in Gurdaspur in Punjab had clashed with their officers after a physical training session.

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