Ghaziabad conversion case exposes rampant misuse of gaming platforms
The case of the conversion of children through the gaming app “Fortnite” that has sent alarm bells ringing across the security agencies has also thrown light on the rampant misuse of gaming platforms that are otherwise and conventionally meant for entertainment while providing a larger-than-life scenario in the virtual space.
New Delhi: The case of the conversion of children through the gaming app “Fortnite” that has sent alarm bells ringing across the security agencies has also thrown light on the rampant misuse of gaming platforms that are otherwise and conventionally meant for entertainment while providing a larger-than-life scenario in the virtual space.
The game — “Fortnite”, which is similar to PUBG — was allegedly being used by miscreants in brainwashing non-Muslim youth and motivating them to convert to Islam, the police said.
The matter came to light when, on May 30, a Ghaziabad-based man complained to police that his child was being motivated through a gaming app to adopt Islam. Acting on the complaint, a maulavi (cleric) was arrested, while the police are looking for the prime accused, Shahnawaz Khan a.k.a. Baddo who is on the run.
The man mentioned in the complaint that his 17-year-old son used to leave the house five times a day saying that he would go to the gym. When he got suspicious, he followed his son.
It was learned that he, in fact, used to go to a mosque to offer Namaz five times.
According to a source, when the cleric was arrested, the police could not gauge the gravity of the case. The revelations that came to the fore eventually began giving sleepless nights to the security agencies.
The police also had little idea that Shahnawaz Khan a.k.a. Baddo, was a tech-savvy gaming enthusiast.
As Khan continues to be at large, he has also been changing his locations frequently, making it difficult for the police to trace him.
The Ghaziabad Police, Lucknow Police and several other agencies are looking for Khan, who allegedly targeted minor children to convert them through the online gaming application in many places, including Maharashtra.
According to sources, Khan was in touch with children who were usually targeted through the gaming app for quite a few days. Though he only studied till Class 12, Khan has been a pro when it comes to using modern apps, a source said, adding that he has changed his SIM card several times in a span of five days.
It is also being suspected that Khan has been frequently changing his address, and making calls to people though the Internet, and not the conventional telephonic route.
According to sources, Khan, being “extremely cunning and shrewd”, switches off his phone immediately after making calls, and also changes his location, making it difficult for the police to trace him.
“His family members and those coming to meet them are under our watch. We are also questioning some of his family members,” a source in the police said.
Four minors — two from Ghaziabad and one each from Faridabad and Chandigarh — who converted through this modus operandi, have been identified so far.
“Fortnite” was launched by a US-based gaming company in 2017.
In the game, the user would be on a virtual island and provided with arms and weapons to destroy opponents in order to finish/win the game.
The first step involves user registration. Once one starts playing the game, a group of players is also formed and everyone plays the game together. However, the user will not be able to know if the fellow players have a verified or fake ID.
In the course of playing the game, the users interact with one another as well, and that is how the process of brainwashing takes its initial shape.
“You need to read some verses and perform Namaz if you want to win the game. The Almighty is very powerful,” the users are told.
According to the police, users who play in a group are usually trapped. If anyone loses the game, he is made to read some verses from the Quran, and they are made to win the game… just to solidify their belief in the Quran, the police said.
The police said that Muslim individuals chat with the Hindu youth by using a Hindu-sounding username, and the Hindu youth are gradually motivated to adopt Islamic rituals.
Once the Hindu youth are befriended, it becomes easier to brainwash them, the police said.
Finally, the users are provided videos of banned Islamic preacher Zakir Naik to further brainwash them.
The Ghaziabad Police have also received information about the conversion of 400 people from Mumbra in Gujarat through a gaming app. The informer has also provided photos and videos to the police.
During the investigation, it was also learned that one minor boy was associated with a YouTube channel, ‘Youth Club’, based in Pakistan. The channel has 1.3 million followers and mostly uploads videos of Islamic spokespersons.
The police further learned during the investigation that some Christian boys were also associated with gaming apps, chat and YouTube channels, who had already converted to Islam.
DCP Nipun Agrawal from Ghaziabad said: “So far, four victims of conversion have come forward. All four are minors. One is Jain, and three are Hindus. They are residents of Ghaziabad, Faridabad and Chandigarh. We have arrested Abdul Rehman, the cleric of the mosque from Ghaziabad in this case.”
Meanwhile, the mental health experts emphasised parents giving more attention to their children, whose delicate minds are soft targets.
Psychiatrists believe that children turn to the virtual world and begin finding a parallel universe mainly due to the loneliness and neglect they feel or face at home.
Anuneet Sabharwal, a psychiatrist and founder-director at The Happy Tree De-addiction and Mental Health Hospital, told IANS that children’s screen time (on TV or cellphones) increases mainly due to the ambience at home, loneliness, and a feeling of being neglected.
Sabharwal said episodes of trauma and sexual harassment also lead to children spending more time in the virtual space, adding that their brain begins absorbing the imagery of the virtual domain, and it impacts their mind and overall mental growth.
In the conversion episode, the perpetrators usually looked for children whose screen time was on the higher side, those who stayed aloof from the family, and had less involvement in social gatherings.
Parents should keep a watch on such ‘deviated’ children, according to Sabharwal, who believes that keeping an eye on them should be the primary task of the parents.
“Parents, mainly whose children are aged 8-9, should note what their kids are more interested in. If a child loses track at this age, things can be corrected with timely intervention of the parents and relatives,” Sabharwal said.