Women account for 2% of central forces, but 40% of suicides
NEW DELHI: Women constitute less than 2% of all central paramilitary personnel but account for over 40% of the suicides in these forces, data collated from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and the Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPRD) shows.
The recently released NCRB data on accidental deaths and suicides shows that in 2014, 175 people in central armed police forces – which include the BSF, CRPF, CISF and other paramilitary organisations – committed suicide. As many as 73 of them or 41.7% were women. Data from BPRD shows that of the nearly 9.3 lakh people employed in these forces just a little over 18,000 were women compared to over 9.1 lakh men.
What that means is that the suicide rate for women in paramilitary forces is 396.9 per lakh compared to just 11.2 per lakh for men. The data clearly suggests that women in these units face a much higher degree of stress than men do.
Incidentally, suicide rates for men in the paramilitary forces are actually a little lower than in the general population, where it is about 13.9 per lakh. For women, obviously, the rate of suicides in the paramilitary forces is way above the rate in the general population, where it is just 7.1 per lakh.
What makes this gender skew even more shocking is the fact that women personnel are not deployed in combat positions. The CRPF has sent its first batch of women personnel for combat roles in Chhattisgarh as a pilot project, but they have not been part of any operation so far. So the reason cannot be stress associated with duty in conflict situations.
The NCRB data suggests that marital discord is the biggest cause of suicides among central paramilitary personnel. Of the total 45 persons who killed themselves because of marriage-related issues 21 were men while 24 were women. These issues include non-settlement of marriage, dowry deaths and extra-marital affairs. There is a large category of unspecified reasons clubbed under “others” where female suicides equal those by men at 43.
What’s also striking is that among the 36 states and UTs, just four states account for all of the female suicides in central paramilitary forces. The data shows that 29 of them or about 40% were reported in Madhya Pradesh alone. Telangana, Bihar and Jammu & Kashmir, in descending order were the other three states.
Three of these states – excluding Bihar — also account for the bulk of suicides by all central paramilitary personnel. Although these states have in the past been among those worst hit by insurgency or Maoist extremism, the current situation is much better. This is borne out by the fact that none of the 89 fatalities because of deaths in action/operation or encounters were reported from these three states.
Sources from the forces expressed surprise at the data and said there is no study that has examined the high suicide rates among female personnel. They speculated, however, that a major factor could be that it is generally far more difficult for women to work in these forces. Many of them, they pointed out, join the forces in their twenties, which is around the same time as they get married or have children. Balancing the pressures of family responsibilities and duty often becomes very demanding for them, the sources said.
What this data indicates is an extremely high level of stress for women working in India’s central paramilitary forces. It is clear that these organisations have not really studied the issue leave alone arrived at any conclusions as to why the situation is so dire. They need to treat it as an urgent task. As avenues earlier closed to women open up for them, society owes it to them to understand their specific needs and accommodate them. This responsibility is even higher in the case of state-run institutions.