A.K. Singh, Ahmedabad’s police commissioner who signed off on the notification to ban the game in the city, told BuzzFeed News that he took the step because playing the game was reportedly “leading to behavioral change and addiction among the city’s youngsters” as complaints poured in from parents that their kids were becoming more aggressive and isolated. Singh said that the city police had also received multiple representations from concerned parents that the game was too addictive. “We endorse our decision [to ban the game],” he said.
“I’m really not sure what behavioral changes the police are talking about,” said one of the three people who were arrested with Ansari from Juhapura. “We play it purely for entertainment. It’s a stress-buster. Sure, it’s true that a lot of school and college kids play it more than it is healthy for them. But surely the police have bigger fish to fry than arresting them?”
One minister in Goa said PUBG had become a “demon in every house” and demanded that it be restricted. Doctors at a leading digital addiction clinic in Bangalore said they were seeing several people addicted to PUBG each week. Even Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, seemed clued in. When a concerned mother told him about her son’s mobile gaming addiction at a public meeting in February, Modi immediately replied, “Is that the PUBG one?”
“I think these bans in Gujarat in particular aren’t really about one particular game or an app,” Ali told BuzzFeed News, sipping a steaming cup of tea at a restaurant late one night in April, not far from where the cops had arrested the four boys. He spoke slowly, drawing out his words. “It’s a way for the state to remind people of its authority every once in a while. It’s a way to show you that if they want to put you in jail for playing a video game, well, they can.”
By the middle of March, Gujarat state police had arrested 21 people, most of them college students, for playing PUBG in public. In Ahmedabad and Rajkot, cops in plainclothes patrolled outside college campuses, trendy cafés, and youth hostels, all places where the likelihood of finding young people playing video games on their phones was the highest.
Their strategy was simple, said two police officers involved in the arrests in Ahmedabad who asked not to be named: They swooped down on all groups of boys they saw with their heads buried in smartphones held in landscape mode. More often than not, they struck gold. Some of them were let off with stern warnings. Others had charges slapped against them, were convicted in court, and fined. A 19-year-old college student from Rajkot spent a night in jail before being bailed out the next day.
Not long after their arrests, the bans on PUBG were lifted in Ahmedabad. By way of justification, authorities said they were calling off the ban since exams in state schools were over and children no longer needed to focus on their studies. In Rajkot and Vadodara, as well as other parts of Gujarat, the ban was called off due to “demand from youth and representations.” Still, it left behind some traces of pain.