CHENNAI: On the internet, one can learn to make biriyani or a bomb. While it empowers, it also provides a platform for exploitation of impressionable minds. Pro-suicide sites are among the most dangerous on the internet today and all one needs to do to access them is to type some basic keywords that open up a deep, dark world where Death is romanticised and Life is ridiculed.
This came to light after the tragic death of a 14-year-old boy, who allegedly committed suicide in Mumbai on July 31 as a result of participating in the nefarious Blue Whale Game. Pro-suicide sites can be easily found on regular search engines and particularly dark ones are allegedly available on 'deep web,' most of them going by seemingly harmless names.
"There is currently no mechanism to counter such poisonous sites," said cyber law expert, Pavan Duggal.
"However, this is the new reality and it is time we wake up to it. It is impossible for the government to monitor the internet but they could set guidelines that make it binding on service providers or intermediaries to remove such content when notified of its existence."
Popular media too is contributing to the menace. The Netflix show 13 Reasons Why is being criticised for its glorification of suicide. Its impact is such that a 17-year-old girl in Chennai began cutting herself and believed that the pain was pleasurable.
"You can't fight the internet," said psychologist Smruthy Nair.
"It is foolish for parents to think their children will not look elsewhere, if they don't provide them with access to the internet. Children should be able to access counsellors and therapists without being stigmatised. They should feel that if you have a cold, you visit the doctor and if you have depression, you visit a therapist."
However, this too comes with its own challenges. According to the World Health Organisation in 2015, India has one trained mental health specialist for 3,00,000 people. Tamil Nadu needs to pay special attention to these figures as the State ranks second in India with 15,777 suicide deaths as per the National Crime Records Bureau report for 2015.
"Parents need to stop living in denial and accept that their children might have psychological issues," said Sneha Hindocha, a psychological counsellor.
"They tend to take it personally and get defensive.They need to be more in touch with reality and be more accepting if their child confides in them. Often, those who commit suicide suffer from depression or anxiety or just feel they have been deprived of appreciation so parents must be sensitive."
While suicide has generally been associated with the 'individual,' the role 'society' plays is remarkable. "Suicide has a lot to do with alienation and disenchantment from society," explained J Sasitha, Head of the Department of Sociology at Stella Maris College.
"Those who do not get comfort from their primary group or family tend to seek comfort elsewhere. These children believe they will get that 'comfort' online as internet provides them with anonymity and the opportunity to interact with others who reinforce their dubious notions."
Apart from the parents, even friends, relatives and colleagues should take cognisance of changes in behaviour. "It is imperative to pick up on signs," said Nair. "The most common symptoms would be isolation or wildly abnormal mood swings. Romanticizing and talking about death as an ideal escape mechanism, or complaining that living is pointless is a glaring red flag. Marked differences in sleep patterns and appetite or disinterest in activities are other telling signs."
However, it isn't just youngsters who are at risk. For Kalyani Rajendran,* her life changed when she was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease in 2010. She relied solely on television and YouTube for entertainment.
"She initially used YouTube to watch cookery videos and for music," said her daughter Madumitha Rajendran.* "After a while, she started having suicidal thoughts and began searching for other content on YouTube and somehow accessed content that was extremely morbid.
The videos would speak of how if you pay the ambulance staff or bribe the nurse at the hospital, they would kill you without anyone finding out."
While experts agree that striking down these sites will not make much of a difference, none deny the irreparable damage that they can cause.