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Hindu and Jain boys brainwashed to accept Islam through video game Fortnite: The modus operandi and the lessons that parents need to learn

As with online grooming for sexual purposes, grooming for religious conversion follows largely the same tactics. A target is selected, engagement is built over time, boundaries are tested, the target is isolated, and the target is exposed to religious practice (sexualisation in case of sexual grooming) and control.

You may have read about the recent case from Ghaziabad (Hindu, Jain boys lured to convert to Islam through game Fortnite (opindia.com)) where Jain and Hindu underage boys were groomed to accept Islam. News about targeting children for conversion is not uncommon. Indian education sector under British rule was developed for the purpose of grooming our young. However, what is unique about this case is that this grooming happened on the internet using a game called Fortnite.

Fortnite is a very popular game in the “Battle Royale” genre where you have to survive in an ever-shrinking battle zone by eliminating other players or teams. The genre is not really important, what is important is as per this report (Fortnite by the Numbers: How Many Hours Are You Playing Each Week? | PCMag), players spend serious time in the imaginary world of this game. Almost 70% spend over 6 hours a week, and over 20% spend over 16 hours a week.

When the parents of the Ghaziabad Jain boy started noticing their gaming-addicted son was going out at odd hours regularly, they tried to investigate. Like typical desi parents, their concerns may have varied from a love affair to substance addiction. We don’t know for sure but I am willing to bet they must have been surprised to find out their son was going to a local Masjid for praying Namaz. New fear unlocked!

Further investigation by Police has revealed that the Jain boy and some other Hindu boys were groomed to follow Islam by an organised group of adults using Fortnite. The Muslim groomers used Hindu names online, built bonds with the victims and slowly poisoned their minds against their own religions. They also convinced the young boys of the supremacy of Islam by playing tricks such as miraculously winning losing games after reciting Islamic prayers.

Then the boys were sent videos of fugitive radical preacher Zakir Naik. The next step was getting the children in touch with a local Maulvi who took them into his Mosque. By the time this was discovered, some of the boys were so radicalised they were willing to leave home and shift to the mosque permanently. In 2023, nobody has the luxury to say they are oblivious to the reality of online grooming. We all know of extreme cases too where people moved to Syria based on online instructions. It is real and they ARE after your children. But this is still different.

How is it different?

1 Chatting: Even though I mentioned the game Fortnite, it is not relevant. There are plenty of other games too. What is important is that these games allow chatting with strangers. Many parents I know do not realise this potential risk.

2 Team and Trust: Your child is not just playing a game, he is building teams and creating bonds of trust with complete strangers whose identities are not verified. A groomer can exploit this to influence your children.

3 Time spent: As mentioned earlier, children spend an insane amount of time on these games. That’s not just time spent interacting with strangers, it is also less time for building real-life bonds with family and friends.

As with online grooming for sexual purposes, grooming for religious conversion follows largely the same tactics. A target is selected, engagement is built over time, boundaries are tested, the target is isolated, and the target is exposed to religious practice (sexualisation in case of sexual grooming) and control. This is often slow and gradual. As the target approaches this interaction in good faith, the groomer’s job of manipulation becomes easier. Imagine a salesman approaches you, your defences go up immediately. Now imagine you don’t know he is a salesman, so you befriend that charming kind person. What are your chances? Groomers will almost always target underage children who are more susceptible to emotional manipulation. When your children are at their most vulnerable and impressionable, some adults may be trying to exploit them should indeed worry you.

Are there any lessons for parents in this Ghaziabad case? May be there are. Here are some

  1. Gaming is not just past time. It is culture for your children. This acceptance will equip you to deal with the issue better. Parent participation may go a long way in building trust.
  2. Experts have warned, gaming is an issue if it is encroaching on parent-child bonding time. You may feel free when your child is glued to his game, but your parental responsibility is still on.
  3. Have a discussion with your children by treating gaming as yet another avenue where they may get exposed to the worst the outside world has to offer. You teach your children about strangers, good touch – bad touch etc. Make them aware of gaming specific online threats too.
  4. Teach children that anyone discussing religion is a red flag. Children must know that it may not be a casual chat, they may be the target of an organised gang and they must report it immediately.

As with every risk, the biggest lesson is knowing the risk exists. Share this with other parents and children so that gaming can remain a toxic online addiction and doesn’t become a place to groom children too.

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Sachin R
Sachin R
A business consultant who likes to express his views based on the extensive global exposure he has had in the course of his professional life. Needless to say, his views have changed 180 degrees in the last few years.

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