The incidence of suicides in the Indian Army has emerged as a matter of concern. Any suicide is one too many, but in this case the rate less than 10 per 100,000 since 2001 is not substantially different from the average for the country's general population. The rate for the United States Army in 2005 was 13. Indeed, historically modern armies have had to grapple with the problem, with periodic ups and downs in the rates. Meanwhile, a growing trend of fratricidal killings within the Indian Army is of greater and immediate concern: October alone saw seven incidents, and the cumulative count is 100 over the last four years. Unlike in the case of suicides, such incidents are few and far between elsewhere. The Indian Army no doubt offers a disciplined and structured occupational-social environment, and has high-quality entry-level screening and training procedures, but it may now need to look carefully for ways to moderate impulsiveness and aggression at the unit level. Significantly, most of the instances have taken place in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast where troops are deployed for anti-insurgency operations where they are stretched and face sporadic combat situations. There are hardly any such cases among troops posted along the Line of Control. It should be examined whether prolonged troop deployment to fight internal insurgencies is wearing down the personnel.
The Army has done well to take a serious note of the problem and spell out a strategy for stress management, which includes doubling the number of psychiatrists, and deploying counsellors and psychologists in an institutionalised system in the operational areas. Going beyond the cold statistics, it should study them case by case from a human angle, and the data should be analysed to find causal patterns. On the lines of the systems some developed countries have found useful in reducing the incidence of suicides, full-fledged suicide prevention programmes should be put in place. There should be a continuing programme of mental health assessment at all levels. Risk-reduction strategies should then focus on the vulnerable sections. Considering the high proportion of suicides and other killings, stringent protocols should be followed regarding access to weapons.