Give the stressed jawan a break and a buddy

The Times of India | Oct 28, 2012

The central police and paramilitary forces, now called central armed police forces (CAPFs), have been increasingly employed for internal security duties over the last ten years, particularly for counterinsurgency operations in areas affected by left wing extremism (LWE). But a high attrition rate in recent years forced the government to commission a study by IIM Ahmadabad recently. The study has found that continuous posting in difficult areas, long working hours, sleep deprivation, denial of leave, lack of healthcare facilities and delay in promotions and pay parity were all leading to unbearable stress among personnel.
An adversary who is everywhere but cannot be seen, who has the initiative to strike at will and plant LEDs at a time and place of his choosing, who melts into the jungle or hides among the people and often has their support, induces the fear of the unknown among soldiers and policemen. Prolonged exposure to such an operational environment invariably leads to extreme forms of stress if precautions are not taken.
With over 50 years of experience in counter-insurgency operation, the Indian Army has evolved the training regimen necessary physical, professional and psychological — to help troops to deal with stress. The CAPFs that are plagued by frequent suicides, fratricide, cases of desertion, resignations in large numbers, insubordination and alcoholism, must follow suit and create the right operational and administrative conditions for their men to reduce stress levels while enhancing combat effectiveness. The directors general of the CAPFs must carry out a fundamental reappraisal of the organisational structure of the battalions, training, standards of junior leaders, deployment patterns for operations, logistics support system, rest and recreation, promotion prospects and pay and allowances of their forces if the present challenges are to be overcome successfully.
At present, CAPFs like the CRPF are being employed for operations in ‘company’ penny packets rather than as cohesive battalions led by experienced commanding officers (COs). It is common practice for a battalion HQ to be located at its peace-time location along with the CO and most of the officers, while the operating companies are deployed in a state several hundred kilometres away and are commanded by inspectors. Counter-insurgency operations are small-team operations that are normally conducted at section (10 men) and platoon (three sections) level and are heavily dependent for success on very-high-quality junior leadership. It is mandatory for young officers (assistant commandants and deputy commandants) to go out frequently with the men and lead from the front by personal example. It helps to build esprit de corps and camaraderie.
It is vital for the CO (commandant) to also be present the operational area and to occasionally participate in operations. A CO who is ensconced like a laat sahib in a peacetime battalion HQ hundreds of kilometres away and is merely a super-quartermaster cannot hope to succeed. As the most experienced officer in the battalion, only the CO can initiate measures to build unit cohesion where each jawan feels that he is an important part of a large family in which all of them must stand together for success in operations as well as their own safety Also, battalions must operate from three to four company ‘bases’ from which combat patrols or ambush parties go out every day for operations and in which protection, logistics support and rudimentary medical facilities are assured. The concept of operating in ‘buddy’ pairs must be introduced and strictly adhered to.
The CAPFs must institute the concept of ‘peace’ and ‘field’ tenures for their battalions. It is grossly unfair to employ a battalion for more than two to three years for active counter-insurgency operations. Within a battalion, jawans should be permitted to avail their entitled annual and casual leave in short packets three times a year. Special efforts must be made to relieve them from their posts for short periods of rest and recreation and to freshen up mentally. Sports are known to relieve stress and surely each company can carve basketball and volleyball courts in the jungle. Amenities like transistor radios and TV sets are good stress busters. Each post must provide satellite telephone facilities for the men to make a call to their families twice a week.
Each company must have a transparent mechanism to address the grievances and complaints of the personnel. There is nothing more damaging to morale than to brush aside somebody’s perceived grievance. A few remedial measures will go a long way towards reducing stress levels among the personnel and increasing combat effectiveness.