Antony seeks ‘truth’ behind woman captain’s suicide


New Delhi : Taking "serious" note of the suspected suicide by a woman army officer posted in Jammu, Defence Minister A.K. Antony Tuesday said he was keen to arrive at the "truth" even as officials confirmed 52 such incidents in the past six months.

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Antony's directive came even as police in Jammu said they were not ruling out the murder in the death of Captain Megha Razdan of the 113 Engineer Regiment, who was found hanging in her official residence in the city Saturday evening.

Meanwhile, the army was hit by yet another case of suicide when a soldier shot himself dead while on duty Monday night in a cantonment near Jammu. The soldier, identified as Rifleman Vishnu Pratap Singh of the Rajputana Rifles, was on sentry duty at Ratnuchak, about 15 km south of Jammu.

"Let us find out the truth," Antony said during the course of a special 45-minute meeting he chaired here in the wake of Razdan's suicide.

He also asked the army to complete its probe at the earliest and to also obtain a copy of the police report on the incident. "We want to arrive at the truth. I would like to see the reports of both the army and the police," Antony added.

Cases of suicide and fratricidal killing are on the rise in the army. Over 100 soldiers in this manner last year and 53 in the current year alone, officials admitted.

Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt, Indian Army vice chief Lt. Gen. Deepak Kapoor, Adjutant General Lt. Gen. Thomas Mathew, and senior officials of the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) and the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) also attended the meeting.

Antony "also directed the ministry officials to send a request to the Jammu and Kashmir government to speed up the police enquiry into the case to arrive at the truth", a defence ministry statement said.

He also directed officials of the defence ministry, the army and the DIPR to "follow up on remedial measures as evolved in the last few months after he took over as the defence minister", the statement added.

Among these measures are classes in yoga and stress management and improved interaction with senior officers at all levels.

Razdan was found hanging by her husband Captain Chetanya Bhatawadekar, who belongs to the same regiment. He had gone shopping in the neighbourhood and found the door locked from inside when he returned.

"I peeped from the window and saw Megha hanging," he told police officials.

Razdan hails from Pathankot in Punjab, while Bhatawadekar belongs to Kolhapur in Maharashtra. The couple had got married last September. Both have served in the army for a little over two years.

Police in Jammu said they had found an unsigned suicide note but were discounting this as Razdan's body bore bruises and bloodstains that indicated that she could have been strangulated.

"We found a suicide note but it was unsigned. We found a laptop in the house but there was no printer. So, how was the note printed?" a police officer was quoted as saying.

"Besides, there were some ropes in the house but Razdan used a bed sheet to hang herself. We find this a bit odd," the officer added.

Giving details of the second incident, an army officer in Jammu said: "Around 10.30 p.m. the soldier shot himself in the neck with his service rifle and died on the spot."

The soldier was from Bhind in Madhya Pradesh and was 21 years old. He had been serving in the army for the past four years.

The police have registered a case and begun investigations while the army has ordered a separate court of inquiry to ascertain the cause of the incident

According to army sources, the suicide seemed to be for "personal reasons."

The reasons have been attributed to "prolonged duties in disturbed conditions that causes distress, denial of leave or small fights. The main reason in many recent cases has been family problems."

Suicides in the army, at 7.5 per 100,000 soldiers, are far below the national average of 11-11.5 per 100,000 of population. Against this, the US Army witnessed 17 suicides per 100,000 soldiers last year.