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Religiosity can ‘combat’ stress in troops

A research paper discussing the interplay between religiosity and military life has suggested that religiosity can be an effective factor in coping up with stress and providing mental peace to troops.

The paper, authored by Lt Col (Dr) Samir Rawat, a veteran of the 1999 Kargil conflict, has published in ‘Global Views on Military Stress and Resilience’ published by the Canadian Defence Academy in a book on Military Psychology that was released at the Swiss Military Academy, Bern a couple of months ago.

Stress has been a cause of concern in the Indian defence forces, especially in the Army due to tough service conditions, prolonged deployment on internal security duties and changing socio-economic environment in the society. Figures on suicides and fratricide tabled in Parliament regularly bear testimony to this.

The Indian Army has strong secular credentials with harmonious co-existence of diverse religious groups and the average Indian soldier, like his civilian counterpart, is deeply religious. The author claims that religiosity is one of the most powerful agents for sustaining troops’ morale in battlefield. Research studies in India have reported that religion also provides consolation when soldiers encounter fear, killing or witness death of other soldiers.

In a study exploring levels of religiosity among military personnel, Rawat found that personnel below officer rank displayed more religiosity than a comparable sample of officers. In addition to rank differences, his research found that military personnel with 11-20 years of military service were more religious than military personnel with 0-10 years of military service. Also, serving military personnel who had combat experience were found to be more religious than military personnel who had not yet been exposed to combat.

Referring to some studies, the paper states that religion, for most individuals, was beneficial when dealing with the aftermath of stressful combat experience. Some researchers observed that religiosity helps soldiers to draw strength from their religious affiliations and, in turn, share strength and confidence during intensive combat.

Rawat states that his encounter with Indian soldiers deployed in Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield reveals that even though training is the best resource a soldier can possess, it is not enough to fully sustain him. God is the “first and last resort” amongst other factors such as family and friends that gives soldiers the strength to endure hardships, especially at high altitudes where climate and terrain are perceived as “foe”. Even the resolute and fearless Gorkha troops, give up on their staple non-vegetarian food in an effort to appease their Gods and turn to religion as a coping mechanism.

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