By Anusha Bhagat
The Indian Government has finally decided to take action against the ill omen of the Blue Whale Challenge that is suspected to have pushed at least three teenagers to suicide in the country. The abhorrent internet game, which has its origin in Russia, has allegedly taken over 150 lives in Russia and Europe since its inception in 2013. Spread over 50 days, the challenge reportedly instructs participants to complete 50 tasks that include self-harm, body mutilation and other. As the game progresses, participants reach the final day that tells them to commit suicide in order to “win”. The contestants must prove that they have completed the set of tasks by sending proof—pictures and videos—to their “curator” or the “whale” who had been instructing them all this while.
A fatal “game”
While a few Indian teenagers have reportedly been saved at the last minute, a 9th-grade boy killed himself jumping off a seven-storey building in Mumbai. With similar cases being reported in Kolkata and Kerala, there is an urgent and imperative need to pull the plugs off this fatal “game”.
In India, Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi took up the matter with Home Minister Rajnath Singh and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad last week. With the tragedies and a universal call to ban the game, the Ministry prompted the government to direct internet majors Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Microsoft and Yahoo to immediately remove the links of Blue Whale Challenge and the like.
New policies and pink whales
Apart from these measures, governments and city councils are also taking steps to make parents, teachers and children aware of the dreadful consequences of this internet game. The Karnataka Government wants to reach out to schools and colleges in addition to educating the parents about the ill-effects of the game. Even though administrative bodies and top institutes in Delhi-NCR have issued directives to guard against the internet suicide game, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has asked all schools to install firewalls in all computers and ban the use of electronic communication devices.
Amity International School, Noida, has gone one step further by launching a “Pink Whale Challenge to tame the monstrous Blue Whale“. “In this initiative, students have to perform one good deed every day and share the joy they receive by doing it with their friends. After 50 days of their daily tasks, students will have to talk about how good they feel,” said Renu Singh, principal of the school.
Further steps towards prevention
The Goa police have also issued a formal advisory to parents to install parental control software in computers and mobile phones used by their children, and also limit app usage. “Recognise any change in your kid’s behaviour that may point out depression or any other mental problem. Monitor your kid’s search history and get useful insights. They will help you see the state of mind of your kid. View your child’s: text messages, call logs, search history, communication via Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, etc. Moreover, try to limit apps’ usage and block sites promoting dangerous activities,” the advisory cautioned.
The Haryana Child Protection Commission (HSPC) has taken the cue and will counsel children against the Blue Whale challenge in all private and government schools. In the 17-point advisory, the HCPC has suggested deploying digital surveillance system in schools, installation of filters, firewalls, monitoring software mechanism, effective use of the internet, among others as a preventive measure. The HCPC has also asked schools to also keep a close tab on those students who were showing “abnormal” behaviour. The district education officers have been directed to carry out surprise inspection in various schools, including Gurgaon, on day to day basis to get feed back and maintain records of whether or not the HCPC guidelines are being followed. The city education department has also been directed to launch awareness campaign through social networking sites about the consequence of the deadly game and cyber bullying more generally.
A spotlight on mental health
As part of ongoing efforts to combat such disturbing online trends, social media networks such as Facebook and Instagram are also actively updating their algorithms to remove them. In fact, those searching online for suicidal problems or for hashtags like the #bluewhalechallenge are now actively directed towards portals which offer mental health support and are even being reported to concerned authorities.
The Blue Whale game has made visible the lethal path of depression that unfortunately and blatantly engulfs the Indian youth today. The fact that a child may be ready to self-inflict harm as a result of vulnerability is, perhaps, the most distressing and hurtful representation of reality. The Blue Whale menace is an extremely pitiful call to destigmatize and pay attention to mental health that our society is in dire need of.
Featured Image Source: Public Domain Pictures
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