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Fragging Cases in the Indian Army

B.S. Sachar was Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • November 20, 2006

    Cases of soldiers serving in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) turning their weapons on themselves or their fellow soldiers have been reported recently. This is a cause of serious concern and the Army is taking necessary measures to check this disconcerting trend. Various terms have been associated with fratricidal killings like 'fragging' (after US soldiers in the Vietnam war rolled fragmentation grenades into the tents of unpopular officers) and 'running amok' ('amok' is a Malay word meaning 'out of control'). It is necessary to understand why a disciplined soldier loses self-control and resorts to such extreme violence. Is it because of prolonged deployment in insurgency areas and stressful working conditions as it is made out to be by the media, or is there something else that misses the eye?

    Though most of the incidents are taking place in operational areas (J&K and North East), the root cause is, however, not prolonged exposure to dangerous situations. Incidents of terrorist related violence and attacks on soldiers in J&K have actually registered a sharp decline this year. If fratricidal killings were related to combat exposure, then they should have shown a downtrend and not an increase as has happened, demonstrating that such a correlation is flawed. It will be quite revealing to know that more and more personnel are volunteering to serve tenure in the Rashtriya Rifles (specialist counter insurgency force deployed in J&K) and a number of them are even requesting for extended or second tenures. This is due to the good quality of life, better pay and allowances, improved facilities and timely leave in operational areas.

    An analysis carried out by the Army has revealed that in a majority of cases fratricidal killings were triggered by stress linked to personal problems such as property disputes and marital discord. The findings reveal that only 0.3 per cent cases were due to operational stress while the remainder of 99.7 per cent was due to family factors. With the breakdown of the joint family system, soldiers are anxious about their families left behind at home. The growing costs of sustenance and education are difficult to meet. Most cases of suicide and fragging have occurred soon after troops returned to duty from leave. This indicates that soldiers who go over the edge are severely troubled by domestic issues which they are unable to resolve. When a soldier is perturbed over a family problem or returns back from leave frustrated at his helplessness in getting his rightful due, he gets affected psychologically. An estranged individual can then turn the loaded weapon (which is always with him in operational areas) on himself or, on an immediate provocation over an issue with his comrades or officer, on them. The analysis clearly reveals that the maximum number of 'shooting' cases take place within a few days of soldiers coming back from leave.

    The Army is taking short- and long-term measures to root out the problem like permitting families to stay in operational areas, better infrastructure and facilities and improved personnel management. Officers, religious teachers and Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) are also being trained in counselling techniques and to detect early signs of stress and depression. Emphasis has also been laid on strengthening the buddy system, by which soldiers can share emotions and feelings with someone they can trust. This also provides a channel of feedback to commanders if something amiss is noted in the behaviour of an individual soldier. Standing operating procedures are being revised for carriage of weapons in operational areas. Zila Sainik Boards (associations of ex-servicemen) have also been asked to liase closely with the district administration to ensure soldiers' problems are addressed timely.

    There is also a requirement for the civil administration to address problems faced by the soldiers and their kin on priority. With the fractionalisation of land holdings, a large number of soldiers get bogged down by property disputes with close relatives. The increasing lawlessness in rural areas is affecting their families and adding to their worries. The concerned civil administration departments need to understand that the soldiers cannot get leave beyond a prescribed limit and must therefore resolve to provide a helping hand. In the past, recommendations of commanding officers to the district administration about problems being faced by personnel under their command carried weight, but now they are largely overlooked. This must be corrected and an institutional arrangement set in place to give due consideration to the problems faced by soldiers serving in non-family stations and operational areas.