Suicide and an alert, Blue Whale Challenge and its shades of grey

No one knows where you can access it, there are no URLs or websites, no apps, just claims that it lurks in “suicide chat groups” you can stumble into. And yet, the buzz around an online dare game called Blue Whale continues to throw its shadow over homes and schools across the country. On Thursday, schools in Delhi took note of it and issued advisories to parents on Internet safety as police in Madurai handed over the alleged suicide of a 19-year-old college student to its Serious Crime Investigation Cell because of the sketch of a blue whale on his left arm. And this line scrawled in his notebook: “Blue whale is not a game but a danger, once you enter there is no escape!”

Madurai Police say the victim J Vickey, a second-year B.Com student, did not have a computer or high-speed Internet connection at home — just a Rs 6,000-cellphone and a free SIM card with data connection. “His phone had many apps but nothing that led to Blue Whale. We hope to find an answer in two days,” said N Manivannan, SP (Madurai Rural), who is probing the case.

“His family told us that he was addicted to the Internet through his cellphone. They said it was very difficult to have a conversation with him. They assumed that he was busy chatting with friends on a WhatsApp group, but his elder brother recently noticed him disappearing from home at odd hours,” the officer said.

According to Manivannan, Vickey’s elder brother Sathyamoorthy found him at night on the terrace of their home just two days before he allegedly committed suicide by hanging. “When he asked him in jest whether he was playing that video game (Blue Whale), Vickey replied that he would commit suicide if his mother was informed about it,” the officer said.

Speaking to The Indian Express over phone, Sathyamoorthy provided a slightly different account. “I saw him once around 1 am on the terrace. That night, I saw him coming down from the terrace. When I inquired, he didn’t say anything and went to bed. He was very secretive about his phone. It had a screen lock. Whenever I asked him to show me his phone, he refused.”

According to police, Vickey hailed from a lower middle-class family, and stayed in a “small rented home” in Vilacheri, near Madurai city. His father makes and sells sweets at small eateries in the locality, his mother is a junior employee at a local firm and his brother works at a textile shop.

Police say they found nothing during preliminary investigations to suggest that Vickey was facing any psychological issue or had any problem with his family.

Describing the scene of the suicide, Vickey’s mother Daisy Rani said, “Around 3.30pm on Wednesday, he was dropped home by two friends after college. He told them he was going to sleep. His father reached home at 4.30 pm and found him hanging.”

Rani said that by the time she reached home by 6.30 pm, the police were already there. “They had finished all the procedures and clicked photos, too. They were waiting for me. Immediately after I reached, the body was shifted to the hospital,” she said.

Asked about the sketch of the Blue Whale on her son’s arm, she said, “I was crying aloud, holding that hand, when I saw it,” she said. Police claim that Vickey’s death is the first such case in Tamil Nadu with “direct evidence” of a Blue Whale link.

Three days ago, Chennai Police Commissioner A K Viswanathan had issued a warning on the threats posed by the game. On Thursday, SP Manivannan said they have opened a control room in Madurai to help and counsel parents and youth, and warn against groups publicising the game.

However, experts and counsellors warn against jumping to conclusions. “When a child or a young adult is drawn into a game that has suicide triggers, he or she is anyways crying for help,” said a psychologist. “We need to be very careful before we draw a causal link. There is no substitute for parent-child communication about their online behaviour.”