by Vasundhara Pathak Masoodi
This letter has been triggered as an aftermath of very recent and painful news of suicides, committed by young children due to a highly exploitative, abusive and violent game called PUBG (Player Unknowns Battle Grounds). Recently, a case has been reported on July 14, 2020, wherein, an a14-year-old boy died by suicide, at his residence in Srinagar Colony of Palamaner town, District Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, after his mother scolded him for neglecting studies and playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) on the smartphone. The deceased was identified as P Shyam Sreedhar, a Class VIII student.
In another shocking incident that was reported on July 19, 2020, a 13-year-old boy in Qasbayar village of Southern district Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, committed suicide after his younger brother didn’t let him play PUBG on a mobile phone.
At the premise, I may take this opportunity to invoke the advice shared by your good self to our younger generation during an interaction at an event called Pariksha Pe Charcha (second edition) at Talkatora Stadium, New Delhi on January 29, 2019: “I hold technology in very high regard. But everything has two sides. If technology is narrowing us and our thoughts; it will be a big setback. Technology should expand our horizons. To laugh and play in open grounds is very important. Technology can narrow your brain if you don’t use it for the correct purpose. Misuse of technology can result adversely’’.
The above-referred advice by your good self is extremely imperative in the current parlance and this letter/appeal may seek to draw the kind attention by your good self in respect of my serious concerns regarding the presence of some of the online games that seek to inculcate violent, abusive, aggressive and abrasive behavioural abnormalities in the children and youth of our country. Furthermore, such games are giving rise to growing unrest, impatience and horrible reflexes in them. The ripple effects of such online games are not only felt in India but in many other countries as very unfortunately many children and youths across the globe, including India, have either committed suicides or injured themselves seriously being the victims of gaming disorder.
In one of such incidents, last year, a twenty-five-year-old man reportedly suffered a brain stroke while in the middle of playing a PUBG match. He was diagnosed with intracerebral haemorrhage and subsequently passed away. The man was identified as Harshal Memane, a resident of Shindewadi in Pimpri-Chinchwad, Pune. In another shocking incident, a 16-year-old boy died of cardiac arrest after playing PUBG game on his mobile for six hours in a stretch in Neemuch town of Madhya Pradesh, and painfully the list does not cease to grow.
Besides PUBG, being on top of the list, there are some more violence preaching games such as FreeFire, Battle Royal, etc. Some of these games are played online and some offline too. After the reports of suicides due to PUBG, many Indian states announced a temporary ban on it, which, however, should have been imposed on a permanent basis. It seems that there is a concerted effort to spoil and proselytize children and youth towards violence that seriously undermines our quest for peace and compassion in the world.
I personally met with several parents, teachers and other stakeholders who registered their grievance against PUBG and other violence-inducing games during my tenure as Chairperson, Jammu and Kashmir Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights. They shared horrific incidents of misbehaviour and psychological abnormalities in youngsters who were highly addicted to playing violent games such as PUBG and Free Fire instead of focussing on academics and other creative/physical activities.
The factum of such games being addictive and being so highly abusive and detrimental to the welfare and health of our youth and children further emboldens in view of the increasing number of suicide cases and the severe psychological impact on the players especially youngsters. No provision in law could be banked upon or stand the test of constitutionality that spreads or seeks to spread, advocate or market violence at the cost of the precious lives of our children and youths.
Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides for ‘’Right to life and personal liberty’’ which makes it incumbent upon the government to ensure a healthy environment wherein our youngsters can grow to the best and fullest of their abilities and their precious lives do not drain down due to the absence of checks and balances.
Article 39(e) in the Directive Principles in Part IV refers to the duty of the State to direct its policy to see that children of tender age are not abused. Article 39 (f) refers to a similar duty of the State to give opportunities and facilities to children to develop in a healthy manner with dignity and in conditions which are free and where childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and moral/ material abandonment.
The threat to life and welfare of our youngsters is looming large and ever-increasing due to the wide presence of these games, spike in a number of suicide cases and reports of extremely disturbing psychological disorders in younger generation from different corners of our country. India is a welfare state and we strongly believe in “Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto” (the health, welfare, good, salvation and felicity of the people should be the supreme law). Every single child and youth of our country deserves protection from all form of neglect, harm and exploitation. Any further delay in banning such games may cause us irredeemable and irremediable loss which reminds me of a famous couplet by Muzaffar Razmi “Lamho ne khataaki, Sadiyo ne sazaapaayi”.
I am extremely hopeful that early and kind intervention by your good self by way of issuing a complete ban on PUBG, Free Fire and other similar violent games, at this hour of crisis, may bear a fruitful outcome and we might be able to save many precious lives from being lost and homes being ruined.
(A Supreme Court lawyers, the author was earlier head of the Jammu and Kashmir Commission for Women, an organisation that ceased to exist in 2019 fall. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)