Have the majority of us become victims of what social scientists call the ‘Bystander Effect’? It certainly would seem so if the latest attack on women in Rohtak is anything to go by.
A passenger with a mobile phone captured the disturbing scene of two young women fighting off three goons who were harassing them while the entire bus on which they were travelling, the driver and conductor included, did nothing to help.
Though the accused in the Rohtak case have been arrested, this apathetic attitude in the face of gross violations of dignity is also part of the problem. It is true that the police need to do much more in both preventing such crimes and apprehending the culprits after the deed.
And it is no one’s case that the public takes the law into its own hands. But surely, the passengers on that bus could have raised a hue and cry, the driver could have stopped the vehicle, someone could have called the police. None of this happened.
Now the vice-chairperson of the state women’s commission has come up with the absurdly useless input that she will visit the scene of the crime. Why should she even say such a thing after the event? From the Jaipur road accident case where a man lay on the road the road crying for help inside a tunnel next to the bodies of his wife and infant daughter to the December 16, 2012, rape case, motorists and passersby did nothing at all to help victims.
One may argue that people often don’t help victims, be it in a case of sexual harassment or road accident, as they fear either getting dragged into time-consuming legal hassles like police questioning and court appearances or becoming a victim themselves in a dispute that has ‘nothing to do with’ them. While there’s a very strong case that India needs a Good Samaritan law as in Western countries, one that protects people who help victims before the police arrive, we cannot remain mute spectators.
It is not enough to honour the bravehearts as we like to call them. Such people need support, not the silence and indifference of the public. The public must do its part and not leave vulnerable people to fend for themselves when they are attacked.