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Over 2,000 Army soldiers died by suicide since 2001, no military funeral for them

New Delhi: More than 2,000 Indian Army soldiers died by suicide in the last two decades but their funerals were never conducted in accordance with military protocols, officials said on Monday in an effort to put an end to a political controversy that erupted following one such tragic death in Punjab.

Army officials stated that, on average, 100 to 140 troops have been taking their own lives each year since 2001. However, such cases of death by suicide were not entitled to a military funeral according to an Indian Army order from 1967.

The clarification from the Army headquarters comes in the wake of a simmering row in Punjab – where the Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal and former Governor Satyapal Malik condemned the Indian Army’s absence at the funeral of a young soldier, Amritpal Singh, who died by suicide last week while serving at 10 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles in Poonch.

Singh joined the Indian Army recently under the Union government’s Agniveer scheme, which releases 75% of soldiers after four years.

He died while on sentry duty in the Rajouri sector due to a self-inflicted gunshot injury, army officials said, noting that a Court of Inquiry has been instituted to ascertain more details.

In a social media post, Malik claimed that when villagers from Singh’s native place asked for military salutes at the funeral, they were told that such a gesture would not be extended to Singh under the new policy.

“Then the villagers talked to the SSP and got the salutes from the police force… the central government should be ashamed that they are not giving martyr status,” Malik, the former Jammu and Kashmir Governor said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The controversy escalated when leaders from the Congress and SAD joined the issue, placing blame on the Agniveer policy for not giving a military salute to the 19-year-old Singh.

“Unfortunate instances of death arising out of suicide/self inflicted injury, irrespective of the type of entry, are accorded due respect by the armed forces along with deep and enduring empathy with the family. Such cases, however, are not entitled for military funerals as per the extant Army Order of 1967, in vogue,” the Indian Army said in a statement.

“The policy has been consistently followed ever since, without any discrimination. As per the data held, there has been an average yearly loss ranging between 100-140 soldiers since 2001 where deaths occurred due to suicides / self inflicted injuries, and military funeral in such cases was not accorded,” it said.

An official said armed forces didn’t differentiate between the soldiers who joined prior to or after the implementation of the Agnipath scheme as regards entitled benefits and protocols.

Earlier, officials from Jammu-based 16 Corps said the mortal remains of the deceased, accompanied by one Junior Commissioned Officer and four Other Ranks (soldiers), were transported in a civil ambulance hired by the unit. Accompanying army personnel also attended the last rites.

“The cause of death being a self-inflicted injury, no guard of honour or military funeral was provided in accordance with the existing policy,” they added.

(Published 16 October 2023, 14:41 IST)

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