Young Insta influencer's alleged suicide in Kerala: Cyberbullying or more?

A police officer from the Poojappura station told TNM that multiple angles are being looked into as part of the investigation, including that of an alleged relationship breakup and the cyber attacks that followed.
Young Insta influencer's alleged suicide in Kerala: Cyberbullying or more?
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A charming and quick-witted young woman from Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, Madhu (name changed) was already a celebrity of sorts at the age of 18. A glance through the 130 odd reels on her Instagram page paints the picture of a teen deeply moved by the matters of love, friendship, and the human psyche — insightful in her analysis of the world around her, her humour amped up by her distinctive drawl laced with a Thiruvananthapuram slang. 

The bubbly young woman that Madhu was, her death on the night of June 17 – allegedly by suicide – came as a shock to her friends, teachers, and thousands of followers. She had allegedly attempted suicide on June 10, and had since been under treatment at the Government Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram. 

The Poojappura police, who registered a case of unnatural death, arrested a 21-year-old male friend of hers on June 18. He has been charged under sections 3 (aggravated penetrative sexual assault), 4 (punishment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault), 7 (sexual assault) and 8 (punishment for sexual assault) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, as well as section 364 (kidnapping or abducting) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

But meanwhile, allegations are rife that Madhu’s death could have been due to the cyber harassment she faced after a breakup with this male friend. Many also speculated that she might have taken the step because she failed in two subjects in her recent Class 12 examinations. Amid all the conjectures, however, social media seems to have lost sight of the person she was.

One of Madhu’s teachers at the Cotton Hill Girls Higher Secondary School recalled her as a “confident, young woman” with a clear vision for her future. “She wanted to be a cosmetologist,” the teacher told TNM. “At such a young age, she was already gaining revenue out of her social media accounts, even if it was relatively small amounts.” 

Her teachers also said that while it is true she failed two of her exams, she had just applied for a retest and had even received her hall ticket. Exam failure could not have been the cause, they said.

A police officer told TNM that multiple angles are being looked into as part of the probe, including that of an alleged relationship breakup and the cyber attacks she consequently had to face.

The arrested person, alleged to be her ex-boyfriend, hails from Nedumangad in Thiruvananthapuram and is also an Instagram influencer in his own right. They had formerly posted collaborative content with each other on their Instagram pages.

After their perceived breakup, however, Madhu had faced intense and misogynistic cyber harassment on social media, with many of their followers' moral policing and slut shaming her, accusing her of ‘betraying’ her boyfriend. Neither she nor her friend had publicly declared the reasons for their alleged breakup.

Notably, after the news of her death came out, the alleged ex-boyfriend too has begun to face cyber harassment. 

At the same time, a section of Instagram users are flocking to both their pages demanding a halt to the negative comments, which they allege led to her death. Her follower count, which stood at around 80,000 at the time of her death, has almost doubled since then.

Some of her friends and followers, meanwhile, deny any possibility that she would have turned to suicide over cyber bullying. A section of them posted videos stating that she had stood strong while facing online harassment of a higher scale, and that her alleged suicide was due to other reasons. 

Her father, who addressed the media on the evening of June 18, also stated that her death could not be due to cyber attacks. “She seemed happy and pleasant on the day she attempted suicide. Channels say cyber attack is the reason, but I don’t believe it. I want to know the real reason,” he said.

Young Insta influencer's alleged suicide in Kerala: Cyberbullying or more?
More teens are dying by suicide every year. How do we protect them?

If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help. Here are some helpline numbers of suicide-prevention organisations that can offer emotional support to individuals and families.

Kerala

Maithri: 0484 2540530

Chaithram: 0484 2361161

Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.

Tamil Nadu

State health department's suicide helpline: 104

Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre - 044-24640050 (listed as the sole suicide prevention helpline in Tamil Nadu)

Andhra Pradesh

Life Suicide Prevention: 78930 78930

Roshni: 9166202000, 9127848584

Karnataka

Sahai (24-hour): 080 65000111, 080 65000222

Telangana

State government's suicide prevention (tollfree): 104

Roshni: 040 66202000, 6620200

SEVA: 09441778290, 040 27504682 (between 9 am and 7 pm

Aasara offers support to individuals and families during an emotional crisis, for those dealing with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, and to those undergoing trauma after the suicide of a loved one.    

24x7 Helpline: 9820466726 

Click here for working helplines across India.

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