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This is the second day in a row I've discovered something suicidally whacky on Twitter. The first was when I found a profile with a UID number on it. Today was crazier. Vivek Namibar, a journalist with India Today with a verified handle on Twitter, posted a series of tweets that can only be described as extremely disturbing. You can check them out here:

The thread describes a "suicide challenge game" that involves the participants taking on various tasks assigned to them by a "curator" on the internet. Seemed complete nonsense, but the handle was a journalist and myth or fact, the tweet had already been shared almost a hundred times (and counting). So I decided to find out more.

Based on the myth that blue whales come to the shore when they want to die, the alleged game encourages participants to do various tasks that are depressing or scary or involve self-harm over a period of 49 days and they are asked to kill themselves on the 50th day. One person was arrested in Russia on charges of encouraging 16 people to commit suicide. Various reports and unsubstantiated numbers of teenagers who have killed themselves because of the game. Reports that it had spread to the UK, reports that French police were warning people. Vivek was warning that the game may have reached India with one death in Mumbai and another in Bangalore that he could not trace.

Given the gravity of the warning, I thought it was important to investigate and at least do some initial straight talking based on what I found.

There is no evidence whatsoever that the Blue Whale Challenge exists

While it is hardly unheard of that depressed teenagers (and even perfectly healthy ones as well as adults) succumb to undesirable influences on the internet, given today's modern world of technology, it is impossible that if an organized game involving interaction over the internet over 50 days existed as a link in a large number of deaths in multiple countries, goes undetected. In the event of a suicide, a person's communications will be examined. If the suicide is suspected to have happened because of influences on the internet, there will be an investigation and at least some kind of concrete information would have come up. Given that several of the tasks reported involve self-harm, including making cuts on the body, carving a whale on various parts of the body and so on, it would have been hard evidence linking various suicides - there is no such evidence. There would be statements from the family about this kind of self-mutilation happening before the suicide. There are no such reports.

The game seems to be some sort of an urban myth that originated in Russia. It is possible that there may have been communications or some interactions involving depressed teenagers who committed suicide and tasks and so on, but there is absolutely no proof that such a game exists. It is just that we tend to notice more what has been brought to our attention, so if such a link is heard about, anything that could remotely fit starts looking like it is true. If I told you a pimple was forming on your nose when we met in person, you'd touch your nose a lot more, exploring its contour to catch that pimple!

The only place where the game seems to have spread is in Brazil with several suicides and suicide attempts allegedly related with the game reported. yet there is are no reports of investigations or arrests.

What is the real danger of the Blue Whale Game?

Well, it is obvious. An urban myth that runs wild and gives people ideas. Ideas that exploit others, or seductive ideas for suicidal people to make one last statement and dramatic exit. Another reporter who tried to find out about the game and wrote about it found that a lot of the comments he received were from teenagers seeking the blue whale game! Needless to say, regardless of whether the game exists, it is providing a source of curiosity and potentially interesting teenagers with suicidal tendencies. He provided a button with his story that said "Start game" and over 9% of people who read his article and its warnings clicked the button anyway. The button led to a page where people were asked why they wanted to play the game and answers ranged from the curious to those really wanting to end their lives.

Sociopaths may see opportunity in the teenagers being interested and seek to harm them by engaging them in what they are seeking and expect. An urban myth that makes suicide sound like some kind of rite of passage may encourage vulnerable minds to lose objectivity and choose self-harm.

Malicious online entities could engage people in the game and provide people with links that infected their computers with malware. After all, a person looking to find a person encouraging them to commit suicide is hardly going to expect a hacker.

All the usual cautions about strangers on the internet apply.

What is the good news?

Is there a good news about the blue whale game? Well, yes. Given that the blue whale game involves tasks to be completed over 50 days, tasks that involve fairly conspicuous behavior, like going to the tops of building and standing on the edge, standing on bridges, cutting their arms, cutting designs onto their limbs - this behavior is very easy to notice and trigger concern. And the good news is that it must go on for almost two months before the suicide. I think it beats a teenager committing suicide on a whim and gives people a chance to notice the problem and gives them a chance to change their minds. 49 days of bizarre behavior has a much better chance of someone intervening than a teenager leaving for college and stepping in front of a train. There is no need for paranoia. It isn't true, and even if it were, it has a better chance of someone noticing it and putting a stop to it than an "unorganized" suicide, so to say.

How dangerous is the blue whale game?

This is tough to say. Given that there is no evidence the game exists, there is no "threat score" one can attach to it. I saw several videos said to be music shared as a part of the challenge and I don't feel suicidal at all. And I am someone who has no problems with suicide and have even been suicidal myself in the past. So if there were some mystical power that would make a viewer want to kill themselves, or at least depressed, I should feel something. Nope. Zero wish to kill me. Anyone who watched and did feel depressed probably was reacting to the title saying that it would make them feel depressed or something. There are no supernatural powers in the video.

That said, obviously, self harm is dangerous and suicide is fatal. So I guess, even if the game doesn't exist if people find the idea appealing and try to copy it, it is obviously dangerous. I imagine too many horror movies in the middle of the night on a sleep deprived brain would fry anyone's sense of well being. Nothing catching up on sleep won't fix, I imagine.

The real danger of such secret, coercive interactions would likely to be predatory behavior with teenagers. Online sexual predators, risk of malicious code being downloaded to computers, personal information breached or willingly given that can make someone vulnerable to blackmail... the sane thing to do here is to keep your computer's security updated and not engage in intimate conversations with strangers.

Some last words about this blue whale suicide game thing - try the pink whale challenge instead

The reporter who did that story on the blue whale game and found the teenagers interested created an alternative pink whale challenge. Not going to link to it. If you really landed here looking for something, it will satisfy your need to search for it and find it and you can play it.

With or without the blue whale game, teenage depression and suicides are growing. There is a need to be supportive of vulnerable people and to provide a compassionate listening ear. If you find anyone around you being unusually depressed, engaging in self-harm, withdrawing from the world, do take a moment to check on them, and if necessary, speak with their friends and/or families and see that they receive any attention needed.

If you find yourself interested in suicide, seek help. More importantly, seek information. When emotions are low, it is harder to be convinced that things aren't as bad as we perceive them. Hard facts devoid of positive or negative emotion can serve as an anchor for sanity and allow you to gain a sense of perspective. Contact suicide helplines (search for them). Talk about it with friends you trust to listen to you. Make an abrupt change in life. Quit an environment making you unhappy, try something altogether different. It is a sort of metaphorical rebirth, you know? The giving up of an old unsatisfying life and the trying out of something that appeals more. I have done that often in life. Change careers, live in a different place, break up or fall in love, whatever.

Remember, thoughts of death may be common, acting on it is not. There is no need to fear. It is better to empower yourself with information and pragmatic action. If you are happy, if you care for yourself and seek help when you feel low, you aren't going to want to die, and no game can make you want to do it. That is just the internet being what it is.

Update: After publishing this post, it has come to my attention that the one Mumbai boy's suicide is behind this speculation of the Blue Whale challenge. This is in spite of the police not finding any history of altered behavior in the boy or signs of self mutilation - both of which would have been present if this were a case of the alleged "Blue whale challenge". Regardless, an incredibly uncritical media has widely reported the death as a potential Blue Whale game suicide, Devendra Fadnavis has apparently promised an inquiry saying that if it is an online game, it can easily be blocked (compounding gullibility with rank ignorance of the internet). And to top everything, this was brought up in the Parliament and the government may probably be preparing to issue some kind of a warning on the issue. While they are at it, they should also warn people against trusting Lord Voldemort. The complete gullibility of the media and the state and center governments is staggering. This is what you get by promoting stupidification and superstition. Critical thinking goes for a toss.

 

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How a suicide got attributed to the fictional blue whale game and swept through media, got concerned Chief Minister to promise action and got taken seriously in Rajya Sabha

Viral trends of this sort spread with panic and reach the fertile ground of the minds of those discontented with life who find them appealing. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, the media and the Parliament ought to show restraint instead of introducing Indian youth to such ideas made all the more melodramatic for the attention they get. There are countless suicides in India on a daily basis. While this one is very sad as well, there is no need to go overboard about it and jump to conclusions that have no evidence in the reported facts of the case.

Update 2: More info on Snopes

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Suicide is a taboo subject for conversation. Particularly what makes a person want to commit suicide or what to say in the face of their pain.

“A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future.”
― Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

Suicide is a subject almost everyone has thought of at some point or the other. Almost everyone has wondered what it would be like to end our own life or how it could be done without confronting the great fear - pain, suffocation or other discomforts. Yet suicide remains a taboo subject. The feelings behind suicide. What makes someone commit suicide. We can talk statistics or prevention or helplines, but in the face of actual pain that drives a person to suicide, we have no skills. There is a difference between contemplating suicide and planning to commit suicide. An important one. The first is a fairly common and natural response to unbearable negative emotions. The other is an irreversible action.

I admit I have often considered suicide. I have written about suicide before too. From a perspective of statistics, from a perspective of understanding widespread distress needing political answers, from a perspective of empathy when I read about suicide, from a perspective of failing to support and grieving when someone I know commits suicide and I have also considered suicide as an option to end my own life when I was very sad. Yet, whenever I have tweeted about the subject, I have immediately got responses that amount to stopstopstopstopstopstopstopstopSTOP! It is so immediate that it would be hilarious if the subject were not grave. I have got helpline numbers as replies, I have got advice to not let dark thoughts enter my mind.

Hello! I write and tweet and comment and contemplate issues of human rights abuse. How in the world can one do that without having any dark thoughts? If I were planning to commit suicide, why would I be tweeting instead of finding myself a rope? I understand that it can sometimes be a cry for help by a distraught person, but if the rest of the words are perfectly normal, where is the harm in reading to find out what is being said?

Because here is the thing. Even if a person were tweeting about suicide publicly as a last ditch call for attention and help, the last thing they'd need is to be told to shut up or a sea of platitudes. What they would be needing is an empathetic listener who cares.

What exactly is this fear of talking about suicides?

“The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

I admit I have spent a great deal of time contemplating committing suicide over the years. As in killing myself. I have been in unhappy relationships involving heartbreak, I've been in an abusive marriage with an alcoholic, I've been a broke single mother of a disabled child. Despair and depression are no strangers. And yet I am here, typing this post.

I have actually found thinking about suicide in great detail helpful. Instead of fearing the pain of death (and thus possibly taking a rash step "while I have the courage" maybe after a glass or two of vodka), I've gone and researched methods of suicide. What would cause the least pain? What are the consequences of failure? What is the best method so that it causes least pain and least risk of failing and living with permanent damage? And anyone who knows me knows that when I say research, I mean obsessive information finding till I am convinced I know the subject in and out without actual experience. Enough to make a very well considered decision. On and off, when I'm in utter despair, I've gone and rechecked all the information. And yet here I am, typing all this.

Is this a guarantee I will never commit suicide? No. But it pretty much guarantees that I have given it thorough thought and not found it a better tradeoff for now. It guarantees that if I do it, it will not be a thoughtless impulse, but a decision I take about my life after considering all options I have.

So how has contemplating suicide helped me?

By giving me an option. By giving me an exit from the pain. By giving me the concrete information that if all this gets unbearable, I still have the option to exit. In the process, a miracle happens. I am no longer cornered by my despair. I always have the cheat route out. And because I know that, I am never out of options. I lose the fear of making attempts to change my circumstances that could fail.  Just allowing myself to spend time thinking about ending myself is a catharsis. If no one else, at least I am acknowledging how bad things are. I am listening to myself. It helps me feel heard. It gives me a vocabulary for describing my situation when asking for help. No, I don't mean "I am suicidal, help me or else." I mean "This, this and this is the reason for my despair. I am not able to see functional ways out. I need help." - because hello, I've gone through all the reasons in my contemplation and have them now sorted out in my head.

And sometimes, in a very cynical way, the contemplations have saved me. If I don't care whether I live or die, why not try this one last thing or the other? If I hit a dead end, I can always die.

“Killing myself was a matter of such indifference to me that I felt like waiting for a moment when it would make some difference.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

Here is an example how. When I was younger, my emotions were more volatile. Taking what I felt seriously and giving it serious thought helped me see things more clearly and invariably, I ended up thinking that if there was any hope, I could use it and if there wasn't, well, I could always die. But the well thought out option being there and not at any threat of being taken off the table gave me the confidence to know I could opt for it any time and there was no need to do it right now. I could afford to wait and see. I am truly grateful no one immediately tried to stop me at such times, or I'd have been tempted to use the opportunity before someone blocked it from me.

Now I am older. I have a young disabled child. Whoever knows me knows that I'd chew my arm off before I allowed anything to harm him. Well, losing a mom would definitely harm him. So suicide is totally not an option any more. At least while he is alive. He needs me. Period. Again, if I hadn't thought this through, I could have been at risk of giving up without considering the impact.

In some of my more selfish and melodramatic ways, I've even thought "What will be, will be" If I am not there, someone or the other will care for my son, though I can't imagine who, right now. But then, in such a melodramatic moment, the desire is also to leave a lasting mark on the world when I die. And oops, it is not "orphaned kid in moment of despair". I'd like to be remembered for something better, thank you very much.

Whatever it is. Others may have their own reasoning. Still others may come to a well considered decision that suicide is actually a good choice for them, When my father was dying of Parkinson's, he had the option of looking forward to an indeterminate bed ridden existence with little control over his body, being bored out of his wits and too exhausted to do anything about it but to wait to die. He begged me to kill him almost every week. It is illegal and I have two more dependents, or I would definitely have arranged for him to be freed as per his will if it were legal. Others do it out of poverty. Starvation. When the alternative is to live in debt and watch your family suffer with no hope of ever providing for them in sight, it can be a brutal life to look forward to, and death may simply be a matter of running out of the ability to fight.

“Let them think what they liked, but I didn't mean to drown myself. I meant to swim till I sank -- but that's not the same thing.”
― Joseph Conrad, The Secret Sharer and other stories

Whatever it is, however it plays out, a suicide is not about dying or exiting the world, it is about escaping unbearable torment. A person who feels unheard and uncared for, is unlikely to respond to a panicked flood of platitudes that s/he has heard a hundred times that drowns their voice all over again, even in the contemplation of death.

How agonized we are by how people die. How untroubled we are by how they live. ~ P. Sainath

My suggestion is that we all examine what this fear is that stops us from listening on hearing that word. Because the lives of many around us could depend on how we respond to their pain. If someone has made a well considered decision to die, there isn't much we can do about it, but if someone is screaming into a void of despair, perhaps us offering a listening ear will give them the space to be heard, and in the process get a clearer view of their situation.

What do you think?

Not sure how to do this, given that this is a data free hatchet job by Manu Joseph. So it isn't like he is claiming that his absurd claims are backed by data to begin with. Still, because I'm irritated enough, doing a limited take down of yet another attempt to trivialize the gravity and causes of farmer suicides with the Parliament in session (during or just before Parliament sessions is the season for hatchet jobs on farmers - probably to improve acceptance for anti-farmer policies coming up?).

All quotes from Manu Joseph's fantasy piece on farmer suicides in the Hindustan Times.

If an active cricket ground exists, it would be watered on most days, or it would die. So why this fuss before the tournament? Also, the calls for the cancellation of matches are comical for a simple reason — it is on the days of the matches that the grounds are not heavily watered.

Frankly, I agree with Manu Joseph that there are bigger problems than cricket in the face of drought. For example, the state allocation of water prioritizing industry over domestic consumption in blatant disregard for law or rights and a court limits (not cuts off, mind you) water to breweries long after people have spent months making careers out of seeking water to survive. However, the idea that a cricket ground consumes less water when there is a match is ignorance of the highest order, because he seems to think that facilities for a crowd of spectators and worse, media and teams camping out (who in our VIP culture won't be assigned a couple of buckets a day) don't consume water and all the water in a cricketing event is actually only the water poured on a lawn.

At this point, Manu Joseph dismisses the first veteran of his piece. Sunil Gavaskar.

Sunil Gavaskar, whose relationship with the BCCI, it is reported, has collapsed and whose lucrative contract with the board may end, wrote in his column, “The issue of drought is one such where many lives are at stake.” (True). “I am no expert on ground and pitch preparation…” (True) “…

What Manu Joseph does not realize is that Manu Joseph is no expert on ground and pitch preparation either and does not bother with any disclaimers about his lack of knowledge. Probably because it would involve not writing this absurd piece to begin with. Gavaskar may not be an expert on ground and pitch preparation, but Gavaskar knows cricketing events and probably realizes they are not as water free as Manu Joseph's piece is fact free.

This is a mystifying exaggeration — the suggestion that if matches are held in three cricket grounds in Maharahstra the lives of farmers would be at risk. But it is a popular view.

Absolutely no explanation for why Manu Joseph calls this an exaggeration. No mention of available water that people are ignoring and dying as a hobby. No mention of how much difference in water consumption there would actually be and what constitutes exaggerated. Absolutely no evidence anywhere that Manu Joseph has been to drought hit areas, studied so much as what drought means to reach his expert opinion. Manu Joseph has water in his tap and people are making too much of a fuss. And we actually have newspapers giving space to this entitled garbage. An interesting question of how editorial decisions happen in corporate media. Forget the stand taken by an article, but do newspapers no longer require claims to be backed by evidence?

It is not a popular view, BTW. Most people hate it. 60 kilometers from the heart of Bombay, I get half an hour of water - non-potable - a day. I earn enough to make ends meet and have the luxury  of home delivery for drinking water. Men, women, kids from our oh-so-posh looking society are routinely found at a water filtration gig round the corner, filling 10 liter cans for 3 rupees and ferrying the water home. I am nowhere near the officially drought hit regions of Maharashtra, where taps have run dry right after the monsoon and people have been ferrying water for MONTHS already. Perhaps Manu Joseph would like to ferry water for a week in an air conditioned car before calling these concerns exaggerated or merely popular opinion (as opposed to his fact free expert opinion, I suppose).

Perhaps the fact that many of the deaths from drought are from drowning may prove Manu Joseph's point that there is plenty of water and people are making a fuss? There are kids drowning in the silt in water reservoirs. Falling into wells. Kids who aren't in school to begin with, because they are needed to find and bring water home, right along with the adults. How many of these kids will need to search harder, walk farther? How many adults will die of heat stroke and heart attacks as the search for water makes them wander more in temperatures regularly over 40 degrees? There is already risk of water riots as desperation grows. How many of the quests for water will be made longer with tankers supplying water to desperate localities moved to lucrative providing for cricketing events? [link added because hours after I write this, an expose shows how water for the distressed gets sold to whoever can pay for it]

There is much veneration of farmers in India by those who are not farmers. These are the very people whose greatest fortune was that their grandfathers or fathers ejected their progeny from the agrarian economy.

There is also much dismissal of the plight of farmers in India by those who are not farmers. These are the very people whose greatest fortune is to be so comfortable in life as to see no difference in resources spent on entertainment and food. A lot of these overnight experts are those who find their agricultural know-how based on specific facts and arguments cherry picked and promoted by industries who would prefer to marginalize farmers. Who lack any basic knowledge on the subject to know when they are being fed handpicked bullshit or how they can verify it. Whose world view is so limited to their personal experience that they have little but contempt for anyone wanting attention or sacrifices or even inconvenience for problems that they don't face.

[Ignoring the exhibition of incompetence on diet except for one line, because it will derail the main track of this piece here. If you are interested, comment away and I'll do a separate piece on this other glorious piece of logic.]

The human body does not require rice and wheat. In fact it does very well without grain.

I challenge Manu Joseph to provide details of one meal that someone under our poverty line could afford that does not involve grains or meat (asked to give up just before this quote). Because dear friend, if rural India could afford a diet of nuts, they wouldn't be desperately running after water tankers, they'd order home delivery like you and me. And if you think people can survive without grains or meat or nuts - wait.... lemme guess. you're talking of a desk jockey lifestyle like yours without much need for energy? Cabbage your way out of that paunch? BTW, vegetable growing needs more water 🙁 Ask me. I have 3 balcony gardens for food and watering in summer is a pain. The grasses grow much easier than these lush beauties (I assume you know grains grow on grasses).

There is more, but I'm bored now. Ending with this masterpiece of propaganda (the art of repeating a falsehood till it starts sounding true)

Let me repeat an assertion this column made earlier while arguing that farmer suicides are primarily a depression story where poverty only plays a role:

“In a country where most people can be termed ‘farmers’, it is not anomalous that most people who kill themselves would be ‘farmers’. In fact, what is anomalous is that a huge majority of farmers who commit suicide are male. If both official and activist statistics are considered, it would appear that women in impoverished farming communities are among the least likely Indians to commit suicide. Activists who ascribe social, economic and political reasons for suicides would never be able to explain why.’ In most nations of the world, including India, the number of men who commit suicide is several times more than the number of women. this pattern is reflected in the gender ratio of ‘farmer suicides’.

Not just activists, any sane person can't get this logic. That depression is the cause of suicide, but not loans or policies and political maliciousness. I mean, why would you be depressed if your months of physical labour resulted in loss? Why would you be depressed if you couldn't repay loans? Why would you want policies to cover your risks? This logic can only come from someone living in a "normal" where hardwork is not necessary to survive, a good way of dealing with loans you don't repay is pulling strings to get them restructured and bailouts are necessary to save jobs, so not like you want any favors.

No matter how many times you repeat it, fact is, most people in India are not farmers. This bogus statistic is based on some expert claim made by another columnist on economics who found his agricultural gene just before a Parliamentary session with a GM food decision coming up and has been copied by every overnight agricultural columnist whose sole agricultural writings come when policy decisions are up for grabs and have never spoken to the family of a farmer who committed suicide or, for that matter, laid feet on agricultural soil for their journalism. Not seen a single person who actually has knowledge of the subject ever buy this nonsense.

The reason for that is that the IDIOT interpreted 54% of Indian population being sustained by the agricultural SECTOR (this includes everything from distributors of pesticides to tractor mechanics and wholesalers of grain) as farmers. Whereas, the fact is that the farmer suicide problem is largely between small and marginalized farmers, whom we are losing rapidly, even as the number of suicides increases in a shrinking population. But this bogus argument remains popular among subsequent idiots who don't verify the bullshit they are fed with when they have propaganda to peddle. You are not the first, and you will not be the last. The activist types don't give a fuck, but bogus data pisses me off, so I suppose I must call this out every time I see it.

Disclosure: Not commenting on the comment about P. Sainath because conflict of interest. I am happy to share that since yesterday, I am on the payroll of the People's Archive of Rural India founded by Sainath, which sadly now will seem like I am defending him in situations like these, when it would just be objecting to rubbish before.

Note: I normally reference and provide data for my posts, but I believe a fact free article at least requires a rebuttal where you have to do the hard work yourself to verify things I say and discover a hundred more horrors I didn't say.

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The following is a first person account by Md Hasanujjaman, M Phil in English, University of Hyderabad of the brutality unleashed by the police against the students and faculty of University of Hyderabad.

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VC Apparao resumes office at the face of the report of the two-member fact finding committee that stated the university should have handled the incident more “sensitively” -

I am one of the arrested students in connection with the protest against the VC of UoH. I belong to a minority community of West Bengal. My family is financially backward. Here I would like to narrate the police brutality on me and my fellowvictims in police van on the way from UoH to Miyapur Police Station on 22nd March. Before coming to UoH I was naive about the problems in the society. I had no idea of the pathetic and dehumanized condition of the dalits and the adivasis. I was hardly aware of the dangerous consequences of caste system in the Indian society. But coming to UoH I began to understand the real picture of the caste system which leads to utter discrimination and dehumanization of the dalits. I saw that this caste system makes the lives of the dalits extremely miserable. Realizing my responsibility as an independent and right thinking citizen of this country I found that the caste system is a tool of dehumanization and therefore it must be annihilated. I stood against this discrimination of the caste system and thus, I aligned with the movement which Rohith Vemula was part of.

Rohith Vemula being a dalit, was institutionally discriminated and forced to take his own life. The ‘Vice Chancellor prof Appa Rao Podile’ directly perpetrated in the institutional social boycott against the five dalit students including Rohith. Following the suicide of Rohith, the VC was booked under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act according to whose provision the accused must have been arrested within 24 hours from the lodging of FIR. However the FIR was lodged on 18th January, 2016 and till date he has not been arrested. This is a gross violation of the constitutional provision. Instead he returned to the university and attempted to illegally reclaim his ‘vice chancellorship’ on the 22nd March, early morning.

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Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and other security personnel unleashed brutal physical and sexual assault on students and teachers protesting against VC resuming office for Justice for Rohith

On the same day that is on 22nd March I went to attend a PreSubmission Seminar in the department of English, School of Humanities, at exactly around 2.00pm. Coming out of the department at around 3.00pm I saw that the peacefully protesting women and men teacher and students were being dragged and beaten up mercilessly by the police. The police were chasing and lathicharging on the protesters indiscriminately. It was obnoxious to see that the protesters are beaten up for raising voice against the injustice. It was a day of police violence on the democratic and peaceful protesters. I saw one student losing his sense and was rushed to a hospital. Many students got their clothes torn due to the brutal manhandle and lathicharge. But it was most painful to see that the women students and teachers being mercilessly beaten up by the police. They were thrashed on their private parts. I also witnessed female teachers being manhandled/molested by the police. It was a violation of women's rights as the women students and teachers were molested by the male police. Dr Tathagata Sengupta, an assistant professor of Mathematics was beaten up too.

It was a threatening moment in my life. I never saw such police violence in front of my eyes. I could not restrain myself from speaking against the police and as a result I was the next to be victimized. However, the police brutality actually began when one teacher, one film maker and the sixteen students including me were chased and dragged into a police van. I was standing near the ‘Goodwill canteen’ which is around 250 meter away from the VC`s lodge where the protests were happening. Standing there itself I could see students and teacher being dragged into the police van. But I never thought that I would also be a victim of the police brutality. Suddenly, one police chased me and caught the collar of my shirt. I pleaded not to apprehend me as I did not commit any crime except the fact that I stood for the Justice for Rohith and supported the students’ movement for justice. I feel that I was targeted because I questioned the police on their face that why Rohith did not get justice even after more than three months; why the accused for Rohith's murder has not been punished; on what ground the VC has come to take charge of the university. Instead I was beaten up and thrashed hard and pushed into the police van.

This inhuman and brutal torture continued on all of us for around 50 minutes on the way from UoH to the Miyapur Police Station. Dragging me into the van the police forcefully pushed me down into a corner seat. Before getting hit I quickly looked at a fellow victim Subhadeep Kumar and asked him what might happen to me as for the first time my life I got into a police van. He assured me that nothing will happen as I did not commit anything wrong. I could not turn my face to have a look at the rest of the victim in the van. Again the police hit me on shoulder. I pleaded not to hit me but the police pulled my hair and punched me hard on my back. Another police hurried at me snatched my mobile and spectacle. But when I pleaded to give me back the spectacle as I have serious eye problem, the police boxed on my right eye saying that why despite being visually challenged did I spoke against the police. Whenever I tried to look at my fellow companions who were beaten up black and blue, the police hit me and cowed me down not to raise my head again. I heard my fellow friends shrieking in pain as they were mercilessly thrashed and hit. Those who had beard and looked liked ‘Muslims’ were beaten up specifically as the police suspended them to ‘like’ terrorists. The sounds of slapping and hitting still haunt my mind and I feel the pain. Professor K Y Ratnam was also a victim of the police brutality. A filmmaker, Moses Abhilash too was unlucky to be a victim of the brutality. Abhilash was just shooting the videos of police lathicharge which the police did not want the public to see. The police beatings left wounds on my body. When I requested for water they gave me the water only to be ready to get beaten up again. The physical assault was extremely systematic and cruel. At that moment I doubted whether I was at all a human being. While beating up, the police also unleashed verbal abuse on all of us at extreme level. During the journey of police brutality from the UoH to Miyapur P. S., the police were continuously abusing us with the most vulgar and objectionable language. “M***d, b**d, chu**a, bho**ke” and etc were the common words they were throwing at us. They called us Pakistani ISI agents and alleged that we are spending Indian money and supporting Pakistan and threatened us to send us to Pakistan. They called us antinational alleging that we are conducting “beef festival”, “kiss of love” events on “Afzal Guru’, “Yakub Memon’. They said that they were taking revenge on us for their hard work on duty. They also assaulted our departed friend Rohith Vemula saying that he was a ‘bastard’, ‘spoiled child’ and people are unnecessarily paying attention to his death. They used extremely antiwomen, derogatory, and sexist comments. They said that they would rape our mothers and sisters and also they vowed to bring them here and take their naked videos. They also threatened to do the same with our women friends in the university. Hearing these comments I feel that the safety of the women is at great risk and I also feel that the posting of police poses direct threat to women teachers, students and workers in the campus. Their comments and attitudes were dangerous as far as the safety and security of women is concerned at large in the society. It is appalling to think what the police remarked against the women.

hcu-police-brutality.jpg.image.784.410
The language police used against women protestors : "Tu kahaan ki rehne wali hai? Itti kaali hai! Aa tere ku sabak sikhata hoon! (Where are you from? You are so dark. Let me teach you a lesson)"

After brutal torture in the police van we were subjected to harassment in Miyapur P. S. After reaching there at Miyapur we all of us were made to sit on a dirty and spaceless corridor. The police humiliated us by making our respected teacher Prof K Y Ratnam sit on the same dirty floor. The police lectured us about moral and ethical correctness. They behaved with us very rudely while taking our detail information and pictures. On asking about our release the police told us that everything is in hand of their “BIG BOSSES” and they also said that the Gachibowli police have already decided our fate. We were kept awake throughout the night by putting light on in front of eyes and playing songs and videos. When we requested to let us sleep they laughed at us. The next day, a Subinspector of Miyapur P.S. called me for interrogation and he took all my information in detail including my family, relatives’ information. He also took the photos of my PAN, Aadhaar and university ID cards. He also took the phone numbers of my relatives checking my mobile. He abused me very badly and threatened me that in future if something happened in the university, I will be a target even if I do not commit any crime.

Thereafter we were secretly taken to Balanagar Police Station where we were again harassed both physically as well as mentally. The police made us sit in a dirty and suffocating room. Professor Ratnam was again humiliated by making him sit at the feet of the police who was sitting on a chair and giving us pedantic lecture on nationalism and education as to how we should develop our society. This is the same subinspector of Miyapur P.S. who abused me in vulgar language and giggled his teeth and lied to me when I asked him where we were taken to. He also mocked at me by calling me “team leader” and “mastermind”. I don't know his motive for calling such things. But I am apprehensive of my Muslim identity as he was targeting me. I was also not allowed to inform my worried family or friends about my whereabouts.
From Balanagar P.S. we were taken to ‘Government Area Hospital’ secretly. We were shocked to know that we were taken to a hospital. I had wounds and pain caused by the police brutality the previous day. But I had no reason to expect any medical treatment. In the hospital I was forced to stand in the queue for treatment. The doctor gave me “fit to be produced at court” certificate despite my critical health condition. I also saw Professor K Y Ratnam`s Blood Pressure reading to touch around 220 mark in the BP machine. After the “treatment” the Gachibowli CI J. Ramesh forced me to sign the arrest papers at around 9.00 pm on 23 March whereas actually I was arrested by the police at 5.30pm on 22 March. When I tried to raise objection the Gachibowli CI J.Ramesh threatened me that not signing the arrest papers would amount to additional cases against me. I was denied any interaction with any legal expert on these serious issues. When I politely asked him “Sir, my career would be shattered if my future is tarnished by filing cases against me”, he aggressively threatened me saying “shut your mouth up otherwise I will file more cases against you”. I do not know how to express the fear generated in me by J Ramesh. After medically certifying me “fit to be produced at court” I was again confined in the police van. It was suffocating and scorching hot. I requested the police to let me stand out of the van until it moves. But the police as usual again threatened us. I was very hungry as I did not get anything to eat throughout the day. The police did not bother to hear any of my problems. Then I was taken to the honourable Magistrate at around 11.40 pm. But the Gachibowli police Naveen and Bhupathi did not allow me to appear at the honourable Magistrate to narrate my suffering and wooes. At the Magistrate's order I was sent to Cherlapally Central Prison. Coming to the prison my health further deteriorated. I called a prison physician for treatment. He gave me a general painkiller injection and some medicine for the wounds and pain caused by the police on 22 March. But he did not give me any proper health treatment as I needed the most. It still pains me to remember that in prison the doctor was not allowed inside and therefore, I had to take an injection through the window. I also failed to have an eye check as 22 March as the police hit me on my right eye. The police action threatened my life and also the hopes of my family. I feel helpless, hopeless and unsafe. The police filed false cases against me and others with the deliberate intention to destroy our future and our lives. The police terrorized us throughout the first 33 hours to ensure that we do not again protest against the government and its agencies. They kept us saying that we should only study and not get involved in politics. They wanted to create a fear in us so that before protesting we will remember the trauma of the police brutality. This poignant memory will always be haunting my life.
Md Hasanujjaman
M Phil in English,
University of Hyderabad

4

This morning, my mother woke me up telling me that my father was no longer breathing. It wasn't entirely unexpected. He was suffering from Parkinsons and had deteriorated rapidly in recent times. And he had suffered. Coming awake in a hurry, I checked him. No breath, no pulse, he was still warm. My mother had seen his last breaths and stayed with him to comfort him before waking me up.

I called the doctor, who confirmed the death and issued a certificate. My father had wanted to donate his body. However the delays with arriving relatives and his extensive bedsores along with having to cross district lines to submit his body to the Anatomy department at JJ led us to decide to cremate him locally.

It was the strangest day I have lived through on many levels.

My father was many people. To his siblings, he was a devoted brother. To his many nephews and nieces, he was a doting uncle. To my mother, he was someone who undermined her constantly and was frequently cruel to. To me, he was Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Someone who encouraged me to pursue achievements and also someone who disowned me in what he perceived as failure. A large part of my adult life had troubles directly born from trying to exit his home. He was the one to go on a tour with my mother while I returned to his home separated from my husband. He gave another key to the home to the husband I was trying to leave. He manipulated me into coming to live with him when trying to exit an abusive marriage, only to force me back with a disabled infant in tow. He has wished my mother and me dead over the years, predicted that we would have long and paralyzed lives and worse.

He was an extremely self-sufficient man and could cook, clean and do whatever was needed to keep the home running. He did not like household help and when my mom wanted to hire a maid, he took over sweeping, mopping and washing utensils rather than hire one. While he constantly berated my mother for not acting more housewifely (any and every reason would do - housework was just one), he most certainly never expected her to be the only person working in the home (they both had jobs and incomes). His abuse was more an issue of control than misogyny. He'd support me to become a brain surgeon, but not to make choices he wouldn't allow, for example. He happily supported my mother going on her own for the Kailash Parikrama, but in routine life, her salary went to his hands on payday and she never had over twenty rupees in her purse till I hit my teens, then, with inflation it became fifty, then a hundred - for emergency expenses strictly. No whimsical snacks or rickshaw rides. Nor did he ever buy her a single ornament if he could avoid it.

To be honest, I've never seen my mother complain other than occasionally when she really wanted something. She lived as frugally as him, initially to repay the loan for their home, and then to save for their old age. Neither of them smoked, drank alcohol or had other habits commonly understood as vices. My dad's addiction was junk and they both loved to travel and lived unbelievably frugally to fund travel without touching savings.

My father was a tinkerer. A compulsive DIYer who haunted flea markets and junk shops to bring home broken treasures to be brought back to life and gifted or used. While I thankfully don't scour the world to bring junk home, I do think I got my tendency to do stuff myself at his knee, holding a solder wire as he fixed something with the iron, helping him create furniture for his home, reading tiny tiny numbers on electronic parts with my sharp eye for him, or using things for purposes other than they were designed for.

He was an avid traveler all his adult life, and organized travel would give way to two treks a year in later decades. There was no such thing as a summer vacation without a tour to some far away place. And then Himalayan treks. Strangely, by the time I grew up, our rift was so deep, that in spite of him having a daughter who did specialized cultural tours and extreme treks in the Himalaya for a living, we have never been on a trek together. Ever.

Perhaps one thing many would appreciate was his successful saving. He purchased his own home in Vile Parle before he married my mother (though both of them worked to pay off the loan well into the marriage). He saved like a religion. And for someone who had only one job in life - as a factory worker (and machine setter at the end) - he saved enough to be still offering people in need money and affording two treks a year and trying to buy a second home well into his retirement (long story). He wasn't rich by the standards of today's upper middle class, but given the frugality of their life, he had enough to cover his needs indefinitely. I did not get this from him. my financial planning is dismal. I may have supported with care in his last days, but to his last breath, he could most certainly afford all he needed.

To his friends from work, he was a mentor. An elder brother who guided them true in their work and life. One of his friends had come today. Tears streaming down his face to see the pitiful state my father had been reduced to, from a fit and physical ex-bodybuilder, ex-factory worker, ex-trekker. I was able to give him some peace when I shared that their visits in the preceding months had brought my father great joy.

He is also the man who hosted ice cream parties for my cousins and me in the summer vacations when color television and VCRs were a novelty so we could watch films and have fun. He was the one to unfailingly rush to the side of his siblings when they fell ill, serve them tirelessly and offer as much money as he could to them.

Today, I would meet many of these cousins. People whose eyes welled with tears to see his body on the floor when all I could feel was relief at no longer having to change dirty diapers for someone who didn't recognize me for most of the last months, and was unlikely to be happy about it if he did. The benevolent figure they lost today, I'd lost somewhere in my teenage. For someone who had lived with him around the clock for the last ten months, I did not recognize the person they were mourning. The person who was lying dead had little left in him that would support life. He had spent the last few months in pain. He had lost control over his body to the point that the last few days before he died, he had even been unable to open his eyes or swallow more than a few spoonfuls. What was to mourn? This was freedom. Freedom for him from pain, freedom for my mother caring for him round the clock in her old age, freedom for me from the exhausting effort of caring for someone you would have preferred to not run into at all again.

Today, my mother looks exhausted, but far lighter than she did last night.

Did I wish him ill? Not at all. The man who had done untold harm to my life was not the slowly dying man who came into my home ten months ago. This was simply an old and scared man knowing he had a difficult future awaiting and knowing there was no way he could escape it. He had all my compassion, but I felt little attachment. Would I prefer for him to have been alive? Not at all. It was time for him to go. For his own sake too. I felt no guilt for not caring, because my conscience was clear that I had done all I could for him while it could make a difference.

I didn't particularly like my father. He was of a judgmental nature and had let me down in some of my worst times in life. While he had been a paragon to his blood relatives and colleagues, at home, he had been cruel to my mother and me as well once I entered my teens. I hadn't lived with him for the most part of my life and frankly had no ambition to be around him at all till his fall last May brought the parents crashing back into my life. His condition had deteriorated too much for them to live safely on their own. My mother was not capable of caring for him alone. I rented a larger place in a hurry while we extended his stay in hospital so we could move him here.

In these months, I saw another side of my father. The monster who kept trying to drive me out of his home was another creature while living in my home. He was a helpless old man who pined to see the home he had purchased with his sweat and blood one last time before he died. A wish we were not able to fulfill, because of his condition, and the fact that we were two women and a disabled child other than him in the home, with no real manpower for the kind of effort it would have to be.

He was also an intensely proud man humbled by circumstances and humiliated by having to live in the home of a daughter he had driven away. He saw many of the curses he had heaped on my mother and me come true about him with his extended helplessness in a bitter twist that life can be. He was often a very frustrated, sad man, and my mother, as usual was the one to bear the brunt of his anger.

But all was not bad. Before he lost his mental faculties, he did attempt to build a tentative and more respectful relationship with me. In turn, I lost a lot of my bitterness and contempt for him, because he simply wasn't the man who had caused them anymore. We would never be close, but we did develop a carefully polite relationship that did not create new hurts and allowed for the occasional casual or even profound conversation, like when he told me that he did not want to be admitted to a hospital no matter what, since what he had couldn't be cured. He would rather not prolong the discomfort and leave my mother money instead of finishing it on a lost cause. Another time, we had a conversation on assisted suicide and even euthanasia which was pretty raw and helpless given that I agreed with him, but both were not options by law. While he never apologized to my mother to his dying breath nor stopped venting his anger on her, he did learn to appreciate the uncomplaining tenacity with which she served him, in spite of being a patient of schizophrenia herself.

These ten months, he got time to spend with his grandchild. Said grandchild adored him, since he was the only one in the home who was slow enough and idle enough to offer endless entertainment. Nisarga used to go into peals of laughter the minute my father started walking - something he never did for anyone else. Perhaps he thought it was exciting when my father did it, because it was clearly so much effort and achievement for him? Regardless, his hysterical squeals would get my father laughing helplessly to the point where we worried if he'd fall from laughing. This was the only thing that could make him laugh, when his face was not even able to smile anymore. And I was glad that they both had this time together.

It was a day where I wanted to burst into a grin while many were fighting tears. And many, many reflections. While not a sad day for me, it was profound. It was also a sort of transition. I'd been promoted by circumstances to the position of the "man of the house" where the other two members were an aged woman and a disabled child.

So today he lay there and we were discussing who lights his pyre. An aunt was adamant that women can and should do it when appropriate, and as his only child, me doing it was appropriate. My mother-in-law disapproved of women at crematoriums at all. My mother thought that the person who took responsibility for him in the tough time prior to his death should do it, which was me (as opposed to me just being his daughter). Me, I'm an atheist. I don't really care who cremates someone. The easiest way to resolve the issue would be for me to murmur that I don't want to do it. It would be a graceful exit. No one would pressure a woman to light a cremation pyre. However, just because women don't do it as per social tradition, I thought I should. I most certainly had the right as his only child in a world attempting modernity (no other women from the family came to the crematorium regardless), and I did it. There were no last rites to be done. Both my parents had done them while still alive. It was a matter of lighting the thing. I did it. I even did it in the traditional manner, holding the torches behind me, for respect of the beliefs of others there.

As we watched the pyre burn, the question came up of returning the next day to collect his remains for immersing in flowing water. I wasn't interested. I didn't see the point leaving my bereaved mother alone (not to mention what impact today would have on her schizophrenia) at home to do yet another rite, and if he'd got his wish of body donation, there wouldn't be remains anyway. I knew for certain that my mother didn't care about this, but said that I'd discuss it with her when we got home, and return for them, if she wanted it done. My lack of interest probably alarmed cousins who consider it as a closure, and one of them found a way of getting it done with a short wait, using the bones of the lower part of body, that burns faster.

Strangely, while I didn't think of it as a ritual closure, I was glad that we did that. It resulted in a nice drive to the beautiful Agashi beach and the release of the bones into the sea. The bones, to me did not matter so much, but after the ugliness of the last few months, the beauty and peace of the beach was a much better scene to close the story with.

Asthi Visarjan
Asthi Visarjan

And thus it is done. My father died today, got cremated and his remains released back to nature. A fitting end, I think for someone who has been a passionate trekker for decades before his Parkinson's flaring up in his last trek to the Everest Base Camp a few years ago.

He is free. We are free.