Friday, September 15, 2017

30 tribal kids in Maoist-hit Dantewada found playing Blue Whale challenge to ‘solve’ personal problems

At least 30 children in the Maoist-hit Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh have been found playing the Blue Whale challenge, police said on Friday, underlining the lethal online game’s increasing reach into even remote stretches of India.

Assistant superintendent of police Abhishek Pallav told Hindustan Times that they “rescued” 30 tribal children from the government high school, Dantewada, on Thursday after school authorities reported that the students had used blades and other sharp objects to carve whale-like shapes into their arms – a tell-tale sign of the Russia-born self-harm game that has claimed hundreds of lives across the world. The children have been sent for counseling.

“They were playing a local adaptation of the Blue Whale game. They thought the game would help them solve their personal problems. It was acting as some sort of faith healing,” said Pallav.

This is the latest in a string of cases reported from across India of deaths or suicide attempts linked to the online game, first developed in Russia. Last month, a 19-year-old student was found hanging from the ceiling fan in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai as part of the game, where players are asked to perform 50 increasingly difficult tasks of self-harm culminating in a suicide bid. Each task must be filmed and shared as “proof”. The tasks range from self-harming, watching scary movies to waking up at unusual hours.

The government has issued an advisory and police teams across states are working with schools to counsel teenagers and wean them away from the online game. But the increasing penetration of mobile phones and growing curiosity of teenagers has proved to be a difficult challenge for authorities.

Police said the game appeared to have reached the desolate district, one of the poorest in the country and roiled by insurgent violence, about two months ago. Authorities are now talking to the students’ parents and searching their homes for more clues.

“One child said if he played the game, his father would leave alcohol, another said he wanted to stop his father from forcibly marrying him. They must have come to know about the game through the newspaper or internet. It seems that one child is guiding others about game,” Pallav told Hindustan Times. Police have now ordered a thorough search of other schools in the region. The principal of the school, LB Yadav, wasn’t available for comment.

Officials say they will spread awareness about the game – but such drives end up being a double-edged weapon because it arouses curiosity about the Blue Whale Challenge and fans its reach. “Kids are telling that their personal problems are solved by cutting and inflicting pain on themselves,” said Pallav.

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