This article originally appeared on VICE India
For around three years, Mahesh* (19) and his friends treated their daily commute from home to college as an opportunity for death-defying Insta content. Their favourite trick was to hang from outside the train as it made its way from south Mumbai to Chembur.
“It was just a fun stupid thing to do,” explains Mahesh. “Each of us would try to outmanoeuvre each other. We would try touch things passing by, like electric poles. We would climb on the windows from the outside of the train, or even climb on the roof of the moving train at times.”
But earlier this month, they decided to calm down after one of Mahesh’s friends fell off, mid-stunt.
“He was taking a selfie, Mahesh recalls. “He was hanging out of the door, with one leg dragging on the station platform like he was skating. But he lost his grip and fell off the train.”
Thankfully he landed on the station platform and escaped with just a bruised knee and sprained wrist. His phone however was smashed beneath the moving train.
But many others haven’t been so lucky. Between 2011 to 2017 more than 250 people internationally have died while taking selfies. And according to a study from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), more than half of these fatalities occurred in India.
Naturally, this begs the question: why?
“India might be high up on this list only because half of its population is under 25,” theorises clinical psychologist Raghu Shankar. “You find selfie-taking particularly popular among young adults because their sense of self is still evolving, and getting a ‘like’ on their photos adds to their self-esteem.”
According to Shankar another answer might be found in the kinds of photos people take in India. "Group selfies are more prevalent in India when compared to other countries," he says, pointing out that people in groups tend to be less aware of their surroundings.
We're not far into 2019, but this year is already shaping up to be another year of tragic selfies. On January 4, an Indian student lost his life after falling from a cliff in Ireland while taking a selfie. Then in February, a man was electrocuted and a boy was burned while trying to take a selfie on a train roof in Jamshedpur.
The Indian Government hasn’t been blind to this sad phenomenon and plans to create "no-selfie zones" at tourist hotspots, although this plan has been in the works for a while, without much movement forward. There’s also an app available called Saftie, which warns users about the dangers of taking selfies.
“Yes, we need restrictions in place so that people can be saved from such unreasonable deaths, and are reminded in that moment of the hazard they are putting themselves in,” reasons Shankar. “But we also need to examine why we want to take such pictures in the first place, and what purpose they serve. The problem lies way deeper than the act of pulling out your camera for a dangerous photo, and as a society, we need to examine why young people are willing to put their lives in danger just for an Instagram story.”
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