Who can possibly hurt me if I have already conquered the pain by hurting myself?
Droplets of blood appeared on his arm. Trembling, he deepened the cut, elongating it along the markings he had drawn earlier. This time, more blood trickled out. Clamping his teeth firmly around the washcloth, he spread the cut along the length of his bony arm.
“How about that now, father? It is blood gushing out, isn’t it? Your weak skinny boy has some blood in him after all!” He mumbled furiously to himself, picturing his father’s bewildered face.
He would love to wipe that smug smile off his face. He had conquered the only fear he had, the biggest fear anyone has – the fear of pain, of hurting oneself, of cutting open one’s own skin. Who could possibly hurt you if you had already conquered the pain by hurting yourself? Nobody could.
He had found the life-changing game online. 'Such negative publicity!' he had thought when he read comments about how the game was encouraging children to commit suicide.
“They are so mistaken. It is not a curse. It is a blessing; a road to deliverance for us troubled ones who are trapped in loveless lives. They promise we will be salvaged from this world where we have no value and in the next world, we shall be the chosen one,” he wondered.
His diary was full of such references to the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’. It finally happened when his father found his stash of self-mutilation supplies in his room. He took away his things and beat him up. The 15-year-old took the blows in absolute silence. His father was puzzled as to why he showed no signs of pain. He did not let out as much as a whimper. Alarmed, he stopped. He looked at his son’s impassive face for some time. Gaunt sockets and hollow eyes stared back at him. Startled by what he saw, the father left him there. The next morning, he found his son’s body in the backyard. He had jumped off the roof.
This account, though fictional, is an accurate depiction of what the menace of the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ is doing to many children. The game developed by some psychopathic masterminds is reported to have begun in Russia in 2013. Philipp Budeikin, 21, is a former psychology student who claims to have invented this game to ‘cleanse the society’.
Participants in the ‘game’ are given set tasks for over 50 days and the last ‘challenge’ is for the person to take their own life. A group of people in so-called ‘death groups’ issue instructions to the players. These instructions include tasks such as watching horror movies, going out alone after 3am, killing animals, and carving into their skin with knives. They are urged to kill themselves in the last task and to carve a blue whale onto their skin. Furthermore, they are also required to send visual proof that they have completed the tasks. This sickening phenomenon has gripped several countries around the world and is also thought to be linked to the case of 130 children suicides committed in Russia from 2015-16.
Another culprit behind the game, who encouraged a 13-year-old girl to jump under a metro train, Ilya Sidorov, was arrested in Moscow this June. Sidorov admitted to having instructed many young boys and girls into taking their lives. The police have also reported that Budeikin has received fan mail and love letters from several distraught teenage girls. It just makes one question – how easy is it for young children to be manipulated through the internet?
Psychiatric experts have opined that these girls, like all other victims of this ‘game’, are mostly disturbed individuals with unhappy family lives. Additionally, experts have noted that a lack of affection from their families led them to make connections with Budeikin. He was also able to prey on their vulnerable minds by feeding their insecurities and offering them an escape from their lives, which according to them were miserable. His psychology education seemed to have come in handy in this regard.
It is important that I stress this point here – this is a ‘challenge’, not a game, as it would be too cavalier to call something this sinister a mere game. It is a challenge that should not be fulfilled under any circumstances. More so, it is a product of disturbed minds that had no healthy way to vent out their frustration. These people are most definitely criminals but they must have started out as victims at one point in time.
The crass method of issuing instructions shows how little regard the creator has for life in general and how the arbitrators become increasingly vicious as the 50 days pass. The game also goes by other names like ‘A Sea of Whales’, ‘Wake me up at 4:20am’ and ‘50 days’. Thus, it is positively impossible to put a stop to it as imitations of it can easily emerge. Also, there are psychopaths out there who are likely to carry on Budeikin’s work due to their own twisted version of morality and misplaced belief system.
This entire phenomenon clearly brings to light the lack of awareness that is prevalent in society regarding mental distress or illnesses. All the victims and targets of this challenge must have been mentally unstable to such an extent that they agreed to perform these unspeakable tasks without even thinking about the repercussions first. This is one of the reasons why this game is spreading like an epidemic.
This evil menace has also come knocking at our door. Two cases of two young men in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), aged 19 and 21 respectively, have sprung up. These men sought professional help after being traumatised by the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’. They found the tasks too daunting and gruesome to perform until they finally reached out to a psychiatrist at Peshawar’s Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH). The psychiatrist claimed that the two were suffering from depression because of the arduous tasks the game involved. Imagine a scenario where they hadn’t reached out, because most of our population would not. Thus, our authorities need to take this more seriously in order to tackle this ‘challenge’ head-on. They need to stop it before it spreads further.
Even in India, several cases have already been reported and we cannot let the same happen here. Hence, the time to act, and act fast, is now.
However, as we blame Budeikin and his aides in spreading this scourge that infests young and troubled minds, let us also take responsibility for the part we played, as parents, siblings, teachers, friends, and colleagues – it all starts at home. There are numerous parents out there who are too busy to connect with their children, too busy to even give them the time of the day. To them, I say, notice your child’s behavioural changes, watch how they interact with others and you – it can go a long way.
Simultaneously, it must also be made known to the children that they are under our watchful eye. We should know when to give them privacy but we should also know when to breach it to make sure they are not involved in anything that might endanger them or others. It takes about a minute to comfort a wailing child by handing them a tablet or a smart phone but it takes a lifetime to deal with the repercussions that come with exposing a child to the internet.
It also falls to the cyber security experts to come up with innovative and effective ideas and mechanisms to pre-empt and counter such perils that riddle the World Wide Web.
One such initiative has been taken by an 18-year-old student in Pakistan, Waseem Gul, who has developed an anti-Blue Whale app. Similar to the original app, Gul’s app too has 50 tasks that need to be completed, but unlike the suicidal app, Gul’s app has positive, happy tasks. The tasks include:
-Do 10 push ups
-Wake up at 6am
-When you wake up, don’t move from the bed for 10 minutes
-Touch your nose using your right thumb
-Slice a fresh onion and try not to cry while doing it
-Eat a donut but don’t lick your fingers/lips afterwards
-Eat 1 big tablespoon of pure ketchup (don’t do it if you are allergic, havehalf spoon of mustard instead)
-Help your parents with a household chore
-Remember , helping others without interest is cool
-Do something special today (Example: Buy food for homeless, help your siblings)
However, the most applaudable thing about Gul’s app is the message that participants receive after the last task, which reads:
“Congratulations! You have become a Smart Blue Whale. Remember, your life is a precious gift, don’t waste it on strange challenges you find on the internet. The world is full of strange people, some of them will try to scare you in order to make you do odd things, if something like this happens to you, inform your parents or adults that you trust. Stay healthy and happy blue whale grand master.”
The victims are generally depressed individuals that are neglected by the mainstream society and their families. Moreover, they are afraid to seek medical assistance for the fear of being misunderstood or ridiculed. In Pakistan, going for therapy is also seen as taboo, and acknowledging that one has a disorder or illness like depression which is forcing you over the edge is even more taboo. Instead of helping people that suffer from such fates, we push them further away because of our fear for the unknown.
Mental health awareness needs to be more widespread in Pakistan. We need to offer healthy alternative ways to troubled individuals instead of self-mutilation and suicide. As long as people are afraid of speaking up, they will continue to hide behind games like the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’, and they will continue to take their lives.
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