The number of defence personnel suicides was the highest in Indian Army among the three services in the last three years, data shows. Minister of State for Defence, Subhash Bhamre on 6 January told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply that a total of 80 army personnel committed suicide in 2018.
According to the data tabled in parliament shows that there were 888 suicide deaths between the year 2011 to 2018 by the Indian armed forces, including Army, Air Force and Navy. The Air Force reported nearly 5 times fewer suicides at 148 over the eight years. The Navy has the lowest number of suicides with 36 deaths reported over the same period.
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There was a spike in suicides in the Army in 2011, when 105 deaths were reported. The next highest suicides were in 2016 with 104 deaths while the number of army men who committed suicide was 75 in 2017. In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.
The average deaths per year across the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy are 111. There is an average of 88 suicides annually in the Army, the Air Force and the Navy average 18.5 and 4.5 deaths by suicide annually.
Apart from the Army, Air Force and Navy, the government also tracks the number of suicides in the Central Armed Police Forces, and Assam Rifles. CRPF reported the highest 149 suicide deaths between 2012 and 2015, while 134 BSF personnel committed suicide in the same period.
The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) reported 56 suicides in the four years, the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) reported 25 suicides. The Assam Rifles reported 30 deaths by to suicide in the same period.
The data reveals that the bulk of the people who take their own lives are not gazetted officers, junior commanding officers or subordinate officers, but come from “other ranks.”
The highest numbers of suicides were reported in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
According to an estimate which was compiled by the Ministry of Defence “one person on duty from Armed Forces commits suicide every three days”. According to the ministry, personnel also struggle with family issues, domestic problems and marital discord. Sometimes they have “perceived grievances” or financial problems.
The government claims that the “mental built” of the individual and their “inability to withstand stress” are also reasons for the high number of suicides.
However, when one realizes that the very same force is being stressed out or that suicides continue to occur then it makes it all the more necessary for us to take stock of this aspect of our reality.
Suicide rates can be reduced and prevention can amplify with collective efforts and understanding. The society as a whole must be an advocate for suicide prevention. Members of the Armed Forces are not only protectors of our borders, but of all the civilians who live within these borders. Their protection is also our duty.