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Stressed-out jawans turn to shrinks

New Delhi, June 24: The Central Reserve Police Force may be downplaying cases of stressed-out personnel going berserk and shooting down bosses, but more and more jawans on leave are turning to psychiatrists for help.

“Between 45 to 50 men of the CRPF need psychiatric treatment every year, but this is a very small section considering we have a force of over a lakh of men,” says CRPF director-general S.C. Chaube.

Refusing to give exact figures, Chaube says such cases are few and there is no need to press the panic button. He believes a good commanding officer can help a great deal in preventing such mishaps. Though psychologists and psychiatrists have a role, much more depends on the quality of officers who lead the men, he says.

But many experts disagree. “Hiding behind statistics instead of wanting to solve the problem is typical of the attitude of senior officers,” says an expert. “They refuse to see the writing on the wall and allow things to build up. Do they want to wait till everything explodes'” asks a psychologist who did not wish to be identified.

Jeetendra Nagpal, a psychiatrist at Delhi’s Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences, echoes this. “The problem of stress is not just in the CRPF but in all paramilitary forces, where the authorities do not seem to wake up to the enormity of the problem. Every month we have a number of jawans coming to consult us in private while on leave,” he says.

The army appeared better equipped to handle this, with modern stress management techniques in place, he adds.

Nagpal says the jawans are afraid to talk to doctors within the battalion because they feel promotions and career prospects could be hit. “But let me tell you the problem is very serious, and for every jawan who comes to consult us in his private capacity, there are 20 others who keep everything bottled inside and have nowhere to turn.”

Nagpal believes it is not just the paramilitary forces deployed in Kashmir or the Northeast who show stress-related symptoms. Those guarding installations in peaceful areas or manning sensitive government offices and airports are equally susceptible.

This is because of the nature of their work and the kind of life they lead. “Their lives are very structured and regimented, often claustrophobic, with few avenues to air frustration. In insurgency-prone states, where the men are under great stress all the time, they have no one to act as a sounding board. This, together with long hours of duty, being away from the family and the physical and mental stress, leads to breakdown,” Nagpal says.

But Chaube believes senior officers can do a great deal to maintain the morale of the men. He had even written to the officers, asking them to look after their men: “Command should be loud and clear. Never keep a soldier hanging. He should be told yes or no firmly.”

Very often, resentment builds up in jawans over simple things like being denied leave. With CRPF resources over-stretched, it is difficult to grant leave, especially in difficult areas. So, seniors make false promises.

Chaube says 90 per cent of his men are deployed in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast, while the remaining 10 per cent are fighting Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

Jawans deployed in Kashmir and the Northeast are not prepared for what they have to face despite the induction camps they attend before joining duty. Often, they are emotionally and physically not able to cope with the continuing tension, the fear of sudden attacks and living on the razor’s edge round the clock.

“Emotionally, they are in a terrible state: the long separation from their families and being constantly on the move make the jawans unhappy,” says an expert who has worked with these men.

“They need constant reassurance that their families are looked after, they need to go back home to their families every six months to come back rejuvenated,” says a psychologist.

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