Till recently, the Blue Whale Challenge seemed a little far-fetched to be happening in our time and space. It sounded increasingly like an urban legend, with much hue and cry. Websites like Snopes.com listed the game as "unproved." Some publications claimed that the Russian reporter who linked the game to more than 140 teen suicides was probably exaggerating, with the administrators of the game who were arrested, admitting to a much less number, in the single digits.
While the numbers can be contested, the reality of the game now cannot be disputed.
In India, there wasn't substantial proof so far that the suicides reported in various states were actually linked to any Blue Whale-like game. The most we had was speculation by parents, neighbours and friends.
The first alleged Blue Whale victim was from Mumbai, where the 14-year old boy jumped to his death on 30 July. His mobile phone had a picture of him with the caption, 'Soon you will only be left with a picture of me." However, there was nothing to establish a link to Blue Whale. Then, in West Midnapore, a 10th standard boy suffocated himself to death but while friends alleged he was playing the game and had promised to teach them, there were no marks on his body and his mobile and computer are still being searched for clues. In Kerala, a teenager hanged himself, with his mother alleging that he had discussed the game with her and she had made him promise not to play it. In Bhopal, a teen jumped to death in front of a train. While his friends cried Blue Whale, his family affirmed it was due to depression from being weak at Mathematics.
There are also cases where children have supposedly been stopped in the nick of time. In Kolkata, a teenager claimed to have been playing the game to his friend, who reported it to his parents. Another Kolkata teen who had a whale marked on his hand was counseled by a CID officer on FaceBook. In Indore, a boy tried jumping over the third floor school railing and claimed to have been playing the game. He said his details will be made public if he didn't kill himself.
The first real evidence of the game came from Tamil Nadu in August, when a 19-year boy was found hanging in Vilachery, near Madurai, with a whale etched on his hand. The suicide note found near him supposedly said that the "Blue Whale is not a game, it is dangerous. Once you enter, you cannot exit."
But in the two weeks since, the game has gone viral and many incidents are being reported from different parts of the country. A teenage girl in Jodhpur, who was saved after an attempted suicide, was found distraught and frenzied, attempting suicide again because she believed her mother would be killed if she didn't comply. She also had a whale carved into her arm. She is now in hospital.
Yesterday, a 22-year old man in Neravy, near Pondicherry, was saved by the police, thanks to a tip-off from his brother due to his suspicious behavior. He is now revealing to the public how he got drawn into the game via a link sent through a WhatsApp group. Once in, he couldn't get out. He states that the tasks arrive only at 2 am. The first few days, he was asked to share personal details. Then he posted selfies from a cremation ground. He watched horror movies. It was when he was about to harm himself by carving a whale into his hand, that the police arrived in time to save him.
Police and government have issued statements warning the public.
As more evidence comes in, it does seem like there are at least a few children playing some sort of an online one-on-one engagement game. This is likely to be a temporary wave triggered by a bunch of curious early adopters. But we need to stem this right now. We at ChildSafeMedia appeal to students to stay away from suspicious links. Parents, please do not panic but stay attuned to your children's behavior and activities. Read our checklist for action. Teachers, please keep an eye out for erratic student behavior. And finally, students, please don't keep secrets for your friends. You couldn't be doing a greater disservice to your friendship.