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An Argument For Social Work In The Indian Military History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Reports and newspaper articles indicate that suicide in the Indian military has increased significantly in recent years. This increase has been attributed to a number of factors, including more frequent deployments, combat trauma, economic difficulty amongst soldiers, breakdown of interpersonal relationships, too much pressure from seniors, over burden of work, tensions with other members of the unit and leave problems. This paper suggests the implications of these findings for designing more effective prevention programs for military suicide and argues for professional social work intervention as one of the possible solution.

Indian Army: An Introduction

The Indian Army is the largest branch of the Armed Forces of India and has the primary responsibility of conducting land-based military operations. The Indian Army maintains the third largest active force in the world. The Army’s present strength is more than 11 lakh troops including over 35,000 officers. It operates seven operational commands and each one is headed by a Lieutenant General. Each operational command is affiliated to the Army Head Quarter, New Delhi. The Indian Army is a military service, which is a completely voluntary. The army has rich combat experience in diverse terrains, considering India’s diversity on this front, and also has rich experience of serving in the United Nations peacekeeping operations. Indian Army, apart from fighting wars with other countries, also participated in internal conflicts whenever called by the government.

Indian military under its civic action (Operation Sadbhavna) does a lot of social activities like aid to civil authorities, disaster relief during natural calamities, rescue of trapped people, including tourists in the mountains and children who fallen into deep pits, rescue at sea etc. Also under the village adoption scheme, education, medicine and health are common areas where the military engages itself in remote areas.

Indian Army combated many challenges and fought many wars as per the need of the time. Today, again Indian Army is facing a different challenge that is suicides by soldiers. Soldiers’ primary job is to defend his/her country from external enemies but increase in suicide is matter of serious concern which needs a determined attention. The causes of suicides needs to be researched and based on those reliable solutions should be considered to tackle this problem.

In this seminar paper, an attempt is made to find out the forces behind suicides by soldiers. This paper argues for social work intervention by trained social workers to tackle this problem of suicide among soldiers.

Relevance in the Indian Military Setting

The army conducts a psychological analysis at the entry level, but that does not look adequate.

Believing our military members sacrifice enough and deserve good care and the introduction of professional social workers might prove to be a significant improvement towards addressing relationship problems, tensions with other members of the unit and traumatic events in the military. I want to explore the possibility and the scope of army social work within Indian Military settings by relating to the foreign literature with Indian experience as there is no literature available about the Indian context. It will also help me generate some literature for further studies.


It is very difficult and unauthentic to draw conclusions and make arguments based on speculations made from outside without understanding the problems. Initially, for this seminar research I decided to get information from Jawans and Officers with the help of telephonic interviews and online chats. In total, ten interviewees were selected. The criteria of selection was as follows: They had to represent all the three wings (Army, Navy, Air force) of the Military; different designations and socio-economic (including caste) backgrounds also had to be represented. Yet, in this seminar paper, more focus is on the Army compared to the other two wings (Navy and Air-Force) of the military. I have also used some of my own memory of military life since I have grown up in the military setting due to the employment of a parent.

Views from retired soldiers (Jawans & Officers) were also taken into consideration. Out of these ten respondents, three did not answer on telephone. Instead, they asked me to discuss these issues in person at home because of the fear of information getting out. Data from discussions initiated on Facebook is also been taken into account as one of primary sources.

It is very important to protect the privacy of the respondents so in this seminar paper the real names of the respondents are not mentioned.

The above mentioned are the primary sources of information and the secondary sources of information used are books, online journals, online articles, online news articles etc.

Limitations of the Study

At undergraduate level my seminar paper is still in its infancy. On this this topic very limited literature is available in the Indian context because Indian military, inspite of being in force for sixty five years after independence, has still not considered the possibility of social work professionals aiding its personnel. Sample size for this seminar paper is also very limited but this topic is very vast and there are so many multiple driving factors for the suicides in the army. Inadequate time availability is another limitation.

Understanding Life in the Military-Indian Military

Military life if often considered as a life of challenges and hardship. Military, by the name itself, evokes an idea of a hard and challenging life. The dangers associated with soldiers’ lives are known to most of us through films or some published accounts. The complete training programme of the soldier follows a structured design according to the need of the Army. People in the Army have to be very accommodative and very adaptive to the situation as army life is very prone to frequent transfers. It is said that when a soldier joins army, a bond is signed by the soldier says “we can take your service 24-7”, the soldier is entering a total commitment only to the military.

Life of a Jawan in the Indian Army

Jawan refers to a “Young man” in Hindi language. According to a website definition in the Indian subcontinent, “it has additionally taken on the reference to an infantryman, and is used in much the same meaning as soldier in English.” (“Jawan”, Wikipedia). The same website further goes on to say that this term is specific to all ranks below that of a Commissioned Officer, primarily used in the armed forces of India and Pakistan.” (“Jawan”, Wikipedia).

Reflection on a soldier’s life will give insight into the problems faced by soldiers and also open up the discussion on the scope of intervention by social workers. It is an uphill task to describe the life a jawan because the army usually never reveals what happens within its premises. At the same time, from outside we can only make assumptions and the reality may differ from our vague guesses. I got some insight of the jawans’ life through online chats and telephonic interviews (This fed into the impressions gathered from my own childhood spent in a military school and growing up within army settings because of a parent working in the army).

Content from these interviews reflect that the jawans of the Indian army are under enormous stress and they have to perform a number of other tasks apart from their duty.

Most of the Jawans interviewed expressed extreme humiliation at the expectations of personal services by their officers. Jawan-1(27), belonging to Jat community (I have renamed my subjects according to their designations, assigning a number, to protect the privacy of my subjects) says “The Indian army is running under the same rules laid down by the Britishers of the pre-Independence period. The Britishers used double standards to treat an officer and a Jawan. Indians were only recruited as Jawans in the Army and the British officers use to mistreat them, scold them, never gave them respect and make them do household work for the officers.” (B. Singh, Telephone Interview, 05-08-2012). Jawan – 2(32), belonging to Sikh religion says: “Officers mistreat us and disrespect us, they force us do their household works. We take their dogs on morning walks/shit, bring vegetables for them, wash their clothes, carry lunch for their kids, take their kids to schools, and even sometimes they may ask us to wash the panties of their wives” (V. Maan, Telephone Interview, 09-08-2012). This is how an army soldier is being treated in this country, I’m sure this will lead to stress and hatred.

In the discussion initiated for the purpose of study in a social network site also I observed that there was hatred between the officers and jawans. An office in the army comments on Subedar Major Vijay Kumar’s (who won a silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics for India) promotion to officer that the “SM Saab should learn to keep his mouth shut and do his job..!! Promotion is OK but humbleness and modesty is something he needs to learn from people like Mary Kom and Sushil.” (www.facebook.com, specific URL not referenced). This comment was appreciated by other fellow officers. On the same photo there was another serving officer who was supporting the promotion and replied to the above comment: “I think officers of the army are burning with jealousy that a jawan has won a medal as seen by comments of officers on this post. We need to be large hearted and not so petty to salute someone’s achievement for the country. Just clearing SSB (Service selection Board) doesn’t give you permanent license for greatness. But most defence officers are sadly too insecure to accept it. I have been thru the entire gamut of this officer men tamasha. This is an Olympic medal dammit. This man has done so much for 1.2 billion Indians and still the likes of officers have this attitude to call him SM Saab. Who recognizes these so called officers outside? This guy is a national hero and it is sad that officers are so petty” (www.facebook.com).

When they can think so lowly of a National hero, you can imagine the plight of normal jawans. It is due to these officers who are so full of themselves that the jawans are suffering.

It seems they have made the institution of Army suck inhospitable to the Jawans.

Life of an Officer in the Army

Life of an officer is completely different from a jawan’s life. Officers enjoy far more privileges than the jawans. Every officer gets a ‘sahayak’, (helper) deputing trained soldiers to do personal work for the officers.

The assigning of jawans for personal services to the officers is taken to extremes in the Indian Army. When I was with one of my friends (a Captain in the Army), I observed that every day in the morning a soldier came in and cleaned his room, folded his clothes, served breakfast, and took his dog for a morning walk. He even polished his shoes.

This looks almost ridiculous to the eyes of someone outside the Army. I had a discussion with a civilian friend of mine who shared his experience: “Once, I had a company of an Army colonel’s family in my train. While departing at the Bangalore Railway station, four Jawans were waiting to escort the colonel’s family. They came right into the berths running, saluted the Colonel, the mighty wife of his and their two children. Believe it or not, they even saluted their dog. Wasn’t the Colonel supposed to return a salute? But he didn’t, not a single hello. The Colonel’s wife just pointed out all her luggage to the Jawans and chose to simply walk off. Jawans aren’t coolies, are they? I was like…let the children pick their luggage themselves, but not, they are the privileged ones” (R. Kumar, Telephone Interview, 02-08-2012).

The difference of treatment is not just in salary, but, in every single amenity that is provided. This includes food. Jawan -3 says “Army officers have different mess facility and food facility. They wear flat shoes whereas jawans wear heavy shoes. They are treated like British officers used to treat Indians. Indian Army officers are greedy and corrupt. How can two men have different eating requirements if they are working in the same environment? But the Indian Army follows that, an army officers’ food menu is different from a Jawan’s. They are given a higher priority in terms of quality and quantities of food.” (A. Jadhav, Telephone Interview, 03-08-2012). This is really pathetic, even the system is based on the lines of discrimination. At least food pattern needs to be same for all the soldiers in Army.

I think when they are so self-centric, they just let unlawful things happen under their eyes, and it is difficult to think they will fight for their country when it’s is needed?. I guess these wars are basically fought by the Jawans. The situation is only going to worsen and more and more Indian soldiers might die because of these greedy and self-satisfying Indian army officers.

Generalising the statement and abusing the whole officer fraternity of army is also not quite useful. Officer – 1 shared his experience and says: “Leave is a major issue in the army. Leave cannot be granted to all the individuals at the same time. Under my company two hundred soldiers are there, out of that forty are on leave, another forty on course, another forty out of location, where I get to talk to them only once a month. So, it becomes major difficulty when someone comes suddenly and asks for leave. I give him leave and by the next week, other five comes to the office for leave. So in such cases, you cannot grant leave to all. Due to this, genuine cases suffer.” (S.R. Kaushik, Telephone Interview, 18-08-2012).

It is the families of the soldiers which suffer the most because the military targets the youth where major part of their adult life goes in active duty. With any new deployment, the soldiers’ families will have to make new adjustments. Frequent deployments lead to disturbance in the studies of the children, at every new posting their school, friendship circle and environment changes. If the soldier is posted in combat zones then families cannot live with them. In such cases, caring of the family becomes a major problem especially when the wife is pregnant or in the case of some other important family engagements. In my case also, my father never got a chance to visit my school, even for my admission and my uncle had assisted the family me.

Even if some soldiers decide to stay with families, they face problems like limited availability of houses in the unit. They have to make adjustments outside in the nearest city.

Suicides in the Army: Data

There has been a sharp rise in suicide rates in the Indian Army. Defense Minister, Mr. A K Antony said that the Indian army has lost three hundred and two jawans to suicide in the last three years. (The pioneer, 2012). In the Parliament, he also added that in six out of the three hundred and two cases, family members of the deceased branded the suicides as murders. The latest case of alleged suicide took place about a month ago when two jawans shot themselves with their service rifles in the border districts of Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir. (The Pioneer, 2012). It is not just the 1.2 million strong army, which is dealing with this faceless enemy, the paramilitary forces, especially the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) too are losing their men to fratricide and suicide. Forty-eight personnel from the CRPF were killed in gun battles between 2002 and 2007 but the force lost 46 personnel to suicide in 2007 alone. (The pioneer, 2012). Col. (Ret.) P. K. Vasudeva says: “The trend in the third largest and one of the best disciplined armies in the world is a cause of grave concern for the defense ministry, political leaders, psychiatrists and socio-economic circles besides the army” (Vasudeva,2007).

Table: Suicides in Indian Army


No of soldiers committed suicides




















62 (Till July end)

Source: Defense Minister in the Parliament (The Pioneer, 13 August 2012)

*The Times of India, (9 August, 2011), gives figures which are higher compared to the figures in The Pioneer.

The above table gives the details of suicides committed by soldiers each year. In this data also there is contradiction between the data given by two sources. The Times of India gives higher number of suicides figures than the “The Pioneer”. The contradiction in the above mentioned data shows that there might be some politics behind the release of the data. Higher data might put questions on the defense minister’s credibility or may be military organization itself. I think this increase in military suicides has been higher but there is a possibility of inauthenticity in the determining of these figures. This also happened in the Unites States’ military. Suicides among military personnel are frequently misclassified as deaths from accidents or deaths due to undetermined causes; such classification errors may lead military suicide to be as much as 21% higher than reported (Carr, Hoge, Gardner, & Potter, 2004, p. 233). There might be some possibility of such cases in Indian Military also.

Causes for Suicides:

The reasons for suicides by soldiers in the army, after comparing the life of an officer and the life of a jawan in the army, gives me a sense that multiple factors are responsible. These multiple factors include more frequent deployments, breakdown of interpersonal relationships, economic problem among soldiers, too much pressure from seniors, over burden of work, tensions with other members of the unit, traumatic events, etc. Officer- 1 says “I know a guy in my unit who committed suicide because his wife was found in ganne ka khet (In the fields of sugarcane) with a neighbor in the village.” (S.R. Kaushik, Telephone Interview, 18-08-2012).

At the same time there are cases of stress and mistreatment by seniors. Officer- 2 says “Gaurav, I have been in uniform and I truly find this sick and it really sucks. Officers treat them like shit. It is like apartheid or caste system in 21st century India and this is the institution which still exists in feudal times” (P. Sarthi, Telephone Interview, 08-08-2012).

In Dr. Aroona Broota’s understanding is that the “uncertainty associated with the professional life of a jawan is a major factor because of which they are breaking down at such an alarming level” (Mishra, 2011).

Historical Background of Military Social Work

Army/Military social work is always associated with the impact of wars on soldiers’ lives and their families. Military social work has its origin from USA and later on it spreads to other countries like Finland, South Africa, Canada and China. Red Cross and the people from civilian professional organizations in USA helped to shape what is now called as army/military social work. The value of psychiatric social workers to the army was made known during World War-1, as the Red Cross demonstrated a project with the cooperation of the division of neurology and psychiatry of the surgeon general’s office mentioning the importance of army social work in the year 1918 in USA (Harris, 1999, p: 3). The first trained army social workers were recruited in 1945 and the first army social work officer was commissioned in the same year.

In the words of Harris, J: “Commissioned status for social workers within the US Army was finally achieved in 1945, in part because of the continuing efforts of the wartime committee on personnel of the American association of social workers (Harris, 1999, p. 6). Later in the year 1952, the first air force social work was commissioned and in the year 1880, the first social work officer was commissioned in the Navy. So, this is how all the three wings (Army, Air force and Navy) of the US military got professional social workers.

Social Work Intervention

It is true that suicides in the army and other problems have its roots in the structure itself. It is a structural problem and to solve this problem complete structure need to be relocated. At this point of time it seems like an impossible task but we cannot do away with the problem also. Enhancement of leadership qualities of young officers and improvement of interpersonal ties between officers and Jawans can also be a very crucial step in solving this problem.

Soldiers, who give their life defending the borders of this country, need special assistance, because of them only we enjoy fearless nights and days here in peace.

Dr. Aroona Broota, a clinical psychologist who has helped the Indian army deal with these problems among its ranks says: “adequate attention has not been given to the psychological states of the soldier” (Mishra, 2011). So, at the initial stage we can start with installation of some machinery into the army system where regiments of the Army has professional social workers or psychologists where soldiers can share problems and this might create some space for the soldiers to open up. Online help centres for the financial problems of the soldiers is another possibility, where social workers from the call-centres can deliver information about possible schemes available for soldiers.

Professional social workers can serve as commissioned officers and can be placed within the Army, Navy and Air Force medical departments. Army social work officers can be assigned a variety of health, mental health and human service roles. These assignments can also include programme management, policy making, research assignments etc.

Leadership is another major cause for the suicides, so these social work officers can design leadership programmes for the officers. If, this works, then very slowly a whole structure of professional social work can be developed where we can have separate canters centres for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) introduced into the army units at various army hospitals and Military Social Work (MilSW) educational structure can be developed at all the three levels, i.e Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Social Work (MSW) and Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work (Ph.D.). Civilian and military social workers can directly be recruited after the completion of their MSW degrees.

This is one possibility which I draw from this seminar paper, there might be other solutions related to this problem. One can also think about other stress relieving solutions like introduction of yoga, meditation and stress-related counseling to ease the pressure on the jawans.

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