Indian army suicides blamed on 'poor leadership'

An Indian paramilitary soldier takes cover during a gun battle with militants in Srinagar, India. Army officers say soldiers work under tremendous pressure

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Former Indian army officers have blamed "a lack of discipline" and "poor leadership" in the forces for more than 1,300 suicides by soldiers since 2001.

On Wednesday, the government said that stress and personal problems were the main reasons for the deaths.

Analysts say the figures show that more soldiers have died "fighting internal demons" than militants.

Indian army operates in some of the toughest conflict regions in the world, including the Siachen glacier.

Tens of thousands of soldiers are deployed in Indian-administered Kashmir and the northeast where they are battling low-intensity conflicts and insurgencies.

According to the latest government figures, since 2001, 1,362 soldiers from the army, navy and air force have killed themselves while 83 have lost their lives in cases of fratricide - soldiers killing colleagues.

A majority of the cases have been reported from the army soldiers deployed in the Kashmir Valley and the northeast.

"Possible causes for soldiers committing suicides or fratricide are stress, personal problems and financial problems," Defence Minister AK Antony said in a written statement in parliament on Wednesday.

"The physical and mental well-being of the personnel is factored in while planning deployment for counter-insurgency operations," he said.

The minister said that the government had taken several steps "like counselling, improvement in food and clothing, married accommodation, leave concessions" to improve the situation.

Retired officer, Major-General Ashok Mehta, however, says that the numbers are "not alarming" in an army of a million soldiers.

He said the figures were higher when the insurgency was at its peak in Indian-administered Kashmir.

But, he says the soldiers work under tremendous pressure and that "very little work is done in post-conflict psychosomatic disorders" in the army.

They are separated from their families for long periods and often denied leave during tough counter-insurgency operations.

Maj-Gen Mehta says "if suicides are happening and soldiers are killing each other, it is a manifestation of a lack of discipline which goes straight to the leadership - unit level and above".

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