A 14-year-old boy committed suicide by jumping off from the fifth floor of an Andheri (East) building on Saturday, and the police are investigating it as allegedly related to the “Blue Whale Challenge”; a game that has been circulating online, reported Hindustan Times.
The challenge, which calls on its participants via social media to complete a dangerous self-harm challenge over a period of 50 days, encourages them to ‘win’ by committing suicide. The tasks range from self-harm, watching scary movies to waking up to unusual hours, the media reported.
According to reports, the game has killed more than 100 children in Russia and UK. The game, believed to have originated in Russia, seems to have seeped its way into India as well. The Mumbai police are studying the online suicide game for a possible link to the death of the 14-year-old boy.
According to Hindustan Times, a witness in the opposite building stated that he had called out to the boy when he saw him walking along the edge of the terrace. He told the police that he saw the boy trying to make two attempts to jump, and then called out to him. The boy, however, did not respond.
By the time the witness rushed to get help and reached the entrance of the building, the boy had already jumped off. The police are trying to study how the game is played, and have yet to find concrete evidence in the boy’s phone relating it to the Blue Whale challenge.
The police did, however, find chats on WhatsApp groups by friends of the victims about the death being related to the online challenge. The police said they will be checking his laptop and social media accounts.
The game is believed to have been the brainchild of an arrested Russian national who admitted to having psychologically manipulated teenage girls to kill themselves. Pandurang Patil, senior police inspector of Meghwadi police station, said, “A team led by an inspector spoke to the victim’s friends.”
A friend of the victim posted on Facebook that the suicide was linked to the online suicide challenge. A conclusion can only be drawn after the investigation is over. Also, the police are yet to recover the child’s laptop, which will bring further clarity.
Sunny Valia, a friend, said all his friends knew that he was playing the Blue Whale game. “He had in fact told them that he was going to commit suicide, but they thought he was joking,” said Valia. The boy had also told his friends that he would not be attending school from Monday.
While a team from Meghwadi police is investigating all possible angles to figure out the reason behind the suicide, psychologists say one should not jump to conclusions on what led to the child taking his life.
The Blue Whale challenge is difficult to track and hunt down. There is nothing much the government or police can do to stop the spread of the Blue Whale challenge, said gamers and IT experts.
The players also share their personal phone numbers and email addresses which enable the developers to use different psychological tactics to get back to the players by sending them emails and messages.
Schools officials, who spoke to students, said the teenager was an avid gamer and had been talking about going to Russia since past two years. The boy’s teachers said that he was a brilliant student, behaved well, had a pleasant personality and a lot of friends.
“Students said he was addicted to games, but we don’t know for sure if it was the Blue Whale challenge. We are angry inside. This isn’t a way to throw away your life when your parents have done everything to ensure a comforting life for you,” said a teacher.
Cybercrime expert Vijay Ram Mukhi stressed on need of vigilance among parents, rather than blaming the game which is almost impossible to stop.
“The police can try tracing the circulation links, but they will only be wasting their time because the game has been possibly pulled off popular search engines. When I tried looking for it, I couldn’t find the download links and then I realised that the links are basically shared in Russian or Chinese languages so the search engines with servers in India can’t locate them,” said Mukhi.
“The game has caused deaths across the world and people believe it originated in Russia, but I don’t think anybody can confirm it. Developers of the game, using their servers in China or Russia and through chat groups or gaming forums, circulate the link amongst the teenagers who are already suffering from suicidal tendencies and brainwash them into harming themselves and take their life,” said Mukhi.
When asked how teenagers are able to download the game or access it through social media, experts said that their familiarity with foreign gamers and international chat forums is what makes them vulnerable. “There are people I know who learnt Chinese because they want to download latest movies,” Mukhi added.
Dr Harish Shetty, a known psychiatrist, said, “It is important to conduct a psychological autopsy before jumping to any conclusion. Investigating agencies should figure out the conduct of the boy for the past two to three months. Was he aloof? Did he fare well in his exams? Was he staying away from friends, are the questions that need to be answered.”