Data from various parliament responses indicates that the number of suicides in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) has increased in the last many years with CRPF topping the list. Reliability of the data is also an issue since data shared in the NCRB reports is found to be different from the data shared in parliament.
Recently, a constable of the Railway Protection Force (RPF) shot dead three passengers and a senior colleague. It is alleged that the constable was suffering from psychiatric issues, and he is being put to watch to rule out any attempt of suicide. This puts a spotlight on the working conditions and the overall functioning of the armed forces.
In this context, we look at the data on suicides committed by the armed forces over the years and the associated trends.
Suicides in Indian Army outnumber the suicides in Navy and Airforce
There have been 901 cases of suicides in Indian Army from 2010 to 2019, averaging around 90 per year. At the same time, the number of suicides in the Indian Air Force stood at 182, followed by Indian Navy at 40. The average number of suicides per year in the Air Force and Navy stood at 18 and 4 respectively.
These statistics indicate the Army is worst affected by the malady of suicides due to its large workforce compared to the Air Force & the Navy. The scope and depth of physical and psychological stress are peculiarly larger and different in the army, primarily due to the special nature of the service conditions. Most of the suicides are attributable to the increased stress environments. And it is observed that the lower the designation, the more the number of suicides. Despite several positive measures, the suicides of personnel haunt the army even today.
An increasing trend in the suicides in Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs)
The Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) consists of seven units namely Assam Rifles (AR), Border Security Force (BSF), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), National Security Guard (NSG), and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB). There are more than 10 lakh personnel working across all the CAPF units, and in different working conditions.
The total number of suicides in these CAPFs has increased in the early 2020s as compared to the years in the previous decade. From 119 suicides in 2011, it reached a decadal highest of 157 in 2021, thereafter a marginal decline to 136 is seen. As per the latest data, 2023 already has seen 71 suicides.
CRPF tops in suicides among CAPFs, followed by BSF.
Understanding which unit of CAPF is registering the highest suicide is crucial in understanding the causative factors behind the suicide, as each unit has a different kind of work environment and job duties.
The data from the Parliament questions reveal that between 2013 and 2016 (July), CRPF recorded the highest with 137 personnel dying by suicide, followed by CISF with 50 suicides and Assam Rifles with 32 suicides. BSF recorded the lowest, with 12 suicides, followed by SSB with 26 suicides. Strangely, BSF had the highest number of deaths (121) due to Fratricide/Killing/Firing at Colleagues during the same period, followed by CISF (9).
Interestingly, the data from 2017 to 2022 presents a contrasting picture. While CRPF retained its top position with 269 suicides, BSF emerged second highest with 212 suicides, followed by CISF with 109 suicides. NSG recorded the lowest number of suicides, with 8 personnel dying by suicide, followed by ITBP with 56 suicides and Assam Rifles with 59 suicides. On average, one personnel from the CAPFs dies by suicide every three days.
The data of attrition due to other reasons from 2018 to 2022 as per the 242nd report of the Demand for Grants 2023-24 show that over fifty thousand personnel left CAPFs during the past five years. The attrition is highest in BSF, followed by CRPF, while SSB recorded the lowest attrition.
The suicidal rate in CAPF is higher than the all-India suicidal rate.
Every occupation comes with its own type of stress. But the scope and the nature of the stress varies. A draft report by the task force on suicides and fratricides in the CAPFs points out the three main causative factors of suicides in CAPFs – Service Conditions, Working Conditions, and Personal/individual issues. Leaves, bullying, and fear of disciplinary action are among the most cited triggers for suicides of CAPFs.
If we look at the suicide rate in CAPFs and the all-India suicide rate, it is observed that CAPFs have a higher suicide rate as compared to the same for India. On average, between 2011 and 2021, 14 persons committed suicide for every lakh population in CAPFs as compared to 11 at an all-India level. This emphasizes the need for intervention in improving the service and working conditions of the forces. The existing measures taken in this direction do not seem to have yielded the desired results.
Need a reliable data source to study suicides of armed personnel.
It is colloquially said that what gets measured, gets managed. Unfortunately, the data for the suicides of armed personnel is not easily available. Apart from the Parliament questions, there is no reliable source that puts out the figures for the suicides happening within the policing network across India. This is even though these occupations are more prone to suicides. A Research Project conducted by a senior commandant, CISF titled, “ATTRITION IN CAPFs”, sponsored by the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy, points out to the non-availability of timely and accurate information regarding the suicides and general sense of lack of interest and apprehension to share information among the forces.
The NCRB’s Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) report stopped publishing data on suicides in CAPFs in 2020. Even when it was published earlier, the suicidal figures varied very much compared with the Parliament questions. For instance, the 2019 ADSI report puts the number of suicides in CAPFs at 36, whereas the latest Parliament question & Demand for Grants (2023-24) of the Ministry of Home Affairs puts the number of suicides at 129.
It is high time to establish an accurate and timely data source to point out the suicides happening in the policing network and armed forces across India.