The Bathinda case brings to the fore a serious lapse in ensuring zero tolerance of sexual offences in an army unit. This important military establishment on the western frontier couldn't ensure an effective grievance-redressal mechanism that would have punished the predators instead of forcing the gunner to commit multiple murders. The army should review its internal systems to ensure a harassment-free life in uniform. It must carefully address this issue rather than sweep it under the carpet. The army practises zero tolerance to fratricide. For instance, upholding life imprisonment and dismissal from service awarded by a court martial to a jawan for shooting dead his guard commander and attempting suicide, the Armed Forces Tribunal last November ruled that such cases should be dealt with strictly to maintain discipline. However, it must also go into the reasons why some soldiers are driven to these extreme acts and take remedial measures to mitigate the aggravating circumstances.
With a gunner having been established as the main accused in the killing of four fellow jawans in the Bathinda military station on April 12, the issue of the alarming prevalence of fratricide in the security forces, including the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), has again cropped up. It reinforces the need to acknowledge fratricide as a job hazard of the forces and step up its act on containing it. Last July, two personnel became the target of a fratricidal attack at an army camp in Surankote of Poonch district. Around 18 acts of fratricide reportedly took place in the Army and two in the Air Force between 2014 and March 2021. The situation is worse in the CAPF, with 29 paramilitary troopers having been killed by their colleagues in the 2018-22 period. They include the four BSF jawans shot dead by a fellow jawan in Amritsar district in March 2022.
Underlying these grim figures are the tough working conditions of the security forces that lead to mental stress, as also the availability of weapons. The government needs to assess why the remedial measures taken over the years have not made much difference on the ground.
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