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A buddy for a lonely jawan

New Delhi, Oct. 3: You have heard of comrades-in-arms. Now meet buddies-in-stress.

The government has asked the chiefs of all the central paramilitary forces to adopt a “buddy” system under which a jawan can share his problems with a fellow jawan.

The directive has come in the wake of rising cases of suicides and fragging — or fratricidal killings — by paramilitary troopers, who guard the country’s borders, help maintain internal security and keep vigil at key installations.

The idea is a jawan will give company to another jawan so that they can “unburden” themselves when the need arises and also warn seniors about the other’s mental condition “before it’s too late”.

“The directors-general of all the paramilitary forces have been directed to implement the buddy scheme to control the rising number of suicides. This would help stressed-out troops cope with tension and also unburden themselves by sharing their problems,” a home ministry official told The Telegraph.

Over 450 paramilitary jawans have committed suicide between 2007 and 2011, according to figures available with the ministry, while there have been 64 cases of fragging (soldiers killing a superior).

The ministry official blamed the rising number of suicides on stress and fatigue from continuous tough postings. “Our jawans work under extremely harsh conditions but their problems back home are harsher at times. They become more depressed after denial of leave,” the official added.

Soldiers have been known to kill their superiors after being denied leave.

The directive to adopt the buddy system came last week at a review meeting where all the directors-general of the six paramilitary forces — the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF), Sasashtra Seema Bal (SSB), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBO), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and Assam Rifles — were present.

“The ministry has also directed the DGPs to hire qualified psychologists and counsellors to help stressed-out jawans,” a senior CRPF official said.

Under the buddy system, a jawan will be paired off with a “like-minded” jawan of the same unit. The two will not only share room space but will also be deployed together so they can be in regular contact.

“We all need a good friend in life and more so when one is stressed out. The buddy system aims to provide a one-on-one relationship to help jaded jawans boost their self-confidence and reduce stress. It would also help senior officials to know the problems of the jawans and take necessary measures before it is too late,” the ministry official said.

“Stress and fatigue, domestic discord, financial problems and extramarital relationships of wives are the main reasons for the large number of suicides,” the official added.

He blamed “mental illness, grudge and alcohol addiction” for fratricides.

The army has already adopted a buddy system, especially for those in tough postings including Jammu and Kashmir.

The CISF and Assam Rifles started the buddy scheme last year but it was not implemented well.

Among the paramilitary forces, the BSF recorded the highest number of suicides between 2007 and 2011, followed by the CRPF and the SSB. The CISF had the highest number of fratricidal killings, followed by the CRPF and the BSF.

“Stress, denial of leave, long separation from families and sometimes humiliation by senior officials and colleagues leads to violent behaviour among jawans,” a CISF official said.

In a report to the home ministry last month, the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, had highlighted the service conditions in the paramilitary forces and cited five reasons — slow promotions, salary mismatches, too much work, separation from family and continuous “hard” postings — for rising attrition rates.

The ministry had commissioned the study early this year after finding out that some 51,000 personnel had quit in the past five years.

The resignations rose 70 per cent between 2010 and 2011, with many unwilling to serve even the 20 years required for taking voluntary retirement.