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Stress takes toll on men in uniform

New Delhi, Sept. 19: Security personnel in uniform have been turning their service arms on themselves and their colleagues in a disconcerting wave of violence for lawkeepers. All the incidents have been in security services reporting to the ministry of home affairs.

National Security Guard (NSG) commando Dharmendra Rawat, 26, took his life in his camp near Palam, Delhi, early today

Border Security Force (BSF) trooper Jai Singh shot himself with his light machine gun at his post in Barmer, Rajasthan, last night

Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) jawan Bal Kishore Sharma killed himself at the Babatpur airport, Varanasi, where he was posted last evening

CISF jawan Suresh Kumar shot his colleague Kartar San and then turned the gun on himself after an argument over duty hours at a high court judge’s house in New Delhi on Wednesday

Speaking on the commando’s death, director-general of the elite NSG R.S. Mooshahary said it was not because of “professional stress but it could have been because of personal stress”.

The precise reasons for which Rawat turned the gun on himself are yet to be ascertained. The NSG, unlike the other security services, is not as stretched. It calls itself the federal contingency force and specialises in counter-hijacking operations and in actions such as those witnessed at Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, last year. Pressures on NSG personnel are mainly from the demands for extreme physical and mental fitness that a counter-terrorist brief demands.

Not so in the case of the CISF. Primarily raised to provide security to central public sector undertakings, its brief now requires it to step in whenever called for security duties.

The argument between jawans Suresh Kumar and Kartar San in the house of Delhi High Court judge .P. Dwivedi, for instance, was about duty hours. Kumar apparently wanted San to return a favour by doing double duty, but San refused because he had personal compulsions.

Even if authorities distinguish between “professional stress” and “personal stress”, the dividing line between the two in the security forces is faint.

Refusal of a request for leave on professional grounds by the commandant can easily translate into personal stress for the jawan.

Such was the case towards the end of “Operation Parakram” — the year-long military exercise that ended last October — when a non-commissioned officer shot at his captain at Jammu after reportedly having been refused leave repeatedly.

The army, unlike services that are almost exclusively used for internal security duties, is better prepared to deal with such situations because of the advise it gets from psychiatrists and psychologists with the Armed Forces Medical Corps and the Defence Research and Development Organisation. Such counselling, however, is tested in situations of prolonged counterinsurgency operations.

Poor conditions of work, irregular duty hours and tenuous relationships among service personnel also contribute to a deterioration of physical health leading to mental breakdown. Even before an official verdict is out, these factors will figure in an inquiry into the death of CISF jawan Sharma at Varanasi. Sharma was suffering from tuberculosis and high blood pressure.

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