Rebel fire is not the biggest threat to the lives of India’s paramilitary personnel deployed in the country’s insurgency-wracked regions.

Authorities are ignoring issues like stress and health of CAPF personnel

Of the 2014 personnel of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) deployed in various zones of armed conflict, 32 percent were killed in road/rail accidents, while only 7 percent died in operations against militants, data provided by the Home Ministry’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) indicated.

Data from specific conflict zones provides interesting insights into the difficult conditions in which India’s paramilitary personnel work. Sample this.

More CAPF personnel fell prey to malaria and heart attacks than to Maoist attacks in 2014.  While 50 paramilitary personnel were killed in Maoist attacks in the dense jungles of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar, 95 died due to various diseases, including malaria (27) and heart attack (35).

Malaria epidemics are common in Chhattisgarh, the centre of the Maoist conflict. It is the biggest killer of children in the state.

For CRPF and other forces, operating in the interior jungles, malaria poses an enormous threat. They are forced to ignore early symptoms as they are not granted leave easily.

In the circumstances, it is only when their condition becomes serious that they can seek help. By then, it is too late.

The NCRB data shows that things are looking up somewhat for the armed forces battling militancy in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Not a single operation-related death was reported from this strife-torn state in 2014.

However, stress is proving to be a giant killer here. Of the 12 cases of fratricide reported across India, eight (66.7 percent) were from J&K. The state accounted for 10 percent of the 175 suicides among paramilitary personnel country-wide.

The vulnerability of women personnel to stress is underscored by the fact that although they constitute just 2 percent of the paramilitary forces, they accounted for 40 percent of the suicides, although women paramilitary personnel are not deployed in combat.

Like the paramilitary forces, India’s armed forces too battle immense pressure at work.

Problems back home, especially festering land disputes, are an important source of tension for soldiers hailing from rural areas. Rarely are they allowed to take time off from work, visit home or relax.

The result is that increasingly soldiers are turning their guns on themselves or their colleagues. This is a matter of serious concern.

The 1.2 million-strong Indian army is the world’s third largest and widely looked upon as a professional force. Its soldiers are highly motivated and trained to cope with pressure. Why then are they unable to stand the tension? What is the reason behind the growing number of brawls, protests and fratricidal killings among the armed forces?

Jobs in the military and paramilitary forces are stressful the world over. Handling stress is part of the job description. What makes the tension unbearable for India’s military and paramilitary forces is that they are deployed in insurgency-wracked regions for prolonged periods with few breaks or recreational options.

Many of the country’s 106 districts that are most affected by the Maoist conflict are the worst when it comes to problems like malnutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of public health facilities.

In Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district, for instance, the quality of health facilities available for the general public is abysmal. It is to the same government hospitals and health centres that paramilitary personnel stricken with malaria are rushed.

So poor are the facilities and cleanliness in these hospitals that people die from treatable illnesses like diarrhea. The chances of soldiers surviving complex diseases like malaria, where viruses are reportedly mutating into virulent strains, are rather remote.

India’s security experts often call for supply of more sophisticated weaponry to security forces deployed in the country’s conflict zones. They are poorly armed compared with the insurgents, they point out.

While this is true, their living and operating conditions need more urgent attention.

Home Ministry authorities have been putting issues like stress and health of its CAPF personnel on the back burner for far too long. The NCRB data should force them to rethink their priorities. Neglect of issues of basic concern to the paramilitary personnel is affecting their morale too.

Dr. Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore, India

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