A picture of a half-woman-half-bird with bulging eyes and a sinister smile is haunting people on social media worldwide and the panic has spread to West Bengal as well. The extent of the scare is such that the West Bengal Police has had to tweet an alert, warning parents to be vigilant and report any contact with the so-called "Momo Challenge" because just like the Blue Whale challenge that went viral a few months ago, the Momo Challenge apparently ends up with the "player" committing suicide.
Handlers contact prospective players usually over WhatsApp from phone numbers from Japan, Mexico and Colombia and the Momo Challenge has reportedly reached people in Kolkata and in several districts - from Jalpaiguri to North Dinajpur in north Bengal to Hooghly in the south. Two suicides - on the August 20 and 21 - at Kurseong in Darjeeling district triggered the panic though police would not confirm any link between the deaths and the game.
One of the first Momo Challenge deaths was reported from Argentina on July 25 this year. The picture of the mascot dubbed "Momo" has been in circulation for two years, according to sources.
The routine goes like this: a message on WhatsApp challenges players to do some tasks - usually self-harm - and record it on the phone. If they refuse, they are sent "aggressive images" and threats that their near and dear ones will be targeted.
The grotesque picture is apparently of a sculpture exhibited in Japan. A Japanese artist credited initially of creating the sculpture has denied any connection with it.