A day after Border Security Force (BSF) constable Tej Bahadur Yadav’s video about poor quality of food caused public outrage, senior officers of the paramilitary force came out all guns blazing against the soldier, accusing him of being indisciplined, a habitual offender and a “bad hat”.
In an official response, the BSF said that a DIG rank officer had been sent to the camp to “inquire into the circumstances” and that ration available at the LOC is of “good quality, quantity and in variety.” What is odd though is the fact that in its official statement, the BSF said Yadav was sent on the posting, which is an extremely sensitive one, on “an experimental basis to observe the improvements of past counselling.”
The entire episode has yet again brought to the fore age-old and occasionally addressed concerns and questions related to infrastructure available to soldiers in India, especially the BSF.
Take for instance, a 2009 research report, Emotional Intelligence & Occupational Stress, by the Bureau of Police Research and Development. The research, carried out after an increasing trend of suicides and fratricides in the forces, stated that suicide in BSF was “way above the national average and was also much higher than that within the army.”
Whether enough has been done to improve the emotional health of BSF or army personnel can be debated, the number of suicides, premature retirement and fratricides have projected quite a grim picture in the past decade.
After a steady decline in the number of premature retirements in the armed forces since 2013, the number of officers who opted for retirement before reaching the age of superannuation had gone up in all three services in 2016.
According to the Ministry of Defence, the number of officers who sought premature retirement in the army was 221 in 2013, 120 in 2014 and touched as low as 62 in 2015. The number of non-officer ranks in 2013 was 14,252, 12,703 in 2014 and 9,216 in 2015. But 2016 saw quite a spike.
“The major reasons for seeking premature retirement include compassionate grounds, medical grounds, domestic reasons, other Government Civil/Armed Forces Employment, and supersession. The government has taken various steps to check premature retirement, which include implementation of recommendations of the Central Pay Commissions with improved pay structure, additional family accommodation through Married Accommodation Project (MAP) and improvement in promotion prospects in the Armed Forces,” the ministry had said last year.
Even as the statistics of premature retirement paint a grim picture, suicides in the armed forces are something which has worried the institution for decades. As many as 597 military personnel committed suicides between 2009 and 2013. Sixty-nine suicides in the army were witnessed in 2015 alone.
While reasons for the suicides and premature retirements are many, former director-general of BSF, Prakash Singh, spoke candidly to DNA on the issue. “I might be off mark but I feel the rapport between officers and their men has now diminished,” said Singh, who retired more than two decades ago.
“I remember my time in Punjab when BSF was battling Sikh extremists. If we had information that extremists would pass through a particular outpost during the night, officers, including me, would stay with our men in bunkers all night,” Singh said. “We would sing, eat and dance with our men,” he added.
He said that while suicides and retirements are grave concerns facing the forces, an officer’s encouragement and personal leadership has an impact on the psyche of a soldier.
“The conditions under which we operate are tough, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland and Manipur. With age, a soldier’s energies can diminish. Depending on the circumstances, retirement can seem like a good option.
“Suicides too can emanate from the same reasons and that’s where officers have to lead from the front. The current generation of officers are perhaps more intelligent than us and I really hope they take notice of this disturbing trend,” he said.