The deaths of Mohamed Sayyed and Salim Sabuwala in Tuesday’s drink driving crash on the Eastern Freeway highlighted more than Mumbai’s continuing drink-driving problem; it also brought to the fore the shocking apathy of Mumbaiites when confronted with such situations.
Several cars – including a police vehicle – drove past the crash site while Sayyed and Sabuwala lay there dying. And people who reached there on foot simply stood around, unwilling to help.
For Sabuwala, who succumbed to his injuries at Sion hospital, help came only from his 16-year-old son Noman, who pulled him out of the mangled taxi. Noman also helped his injured mother Hafeeza and sisters Sadiya and Salma out of the cab.
But his pleas for help from bystanders and passing motorists were all in vain. The first vehicle to pass by was an Innova; next was a car full of cops. Noman said, “A police vehicle stopped briefly and the cops saw the accident, but they too sped away.”
Finally, Hasan Khan, a manager at Tata Sky, stopped to help. Khan said, “The Audi, travelling down the wrong side of the freeway, had overtaken my Maruti Swift. A few seconds later I heard a loud bang, and thought a tyre had burst. But when I drove ahead, I saw the Audi had crashed into a taxi.”
Khan said people slowly started to gather at the accident site but they neither helped the victims nor tried to arrange for a vehicle to transport them to a hospital. “I also tried to stop other cars but no-one was willing to take the injured to hospital,” said Khan.
Janhavi Gadkar, meanwhile, was trying to negotiate a way out by offering money, he added. “I helped Noman pull his family members out of the taxi. It was only much later that we managed to stopped a taxi and send the injured to Sion hospital. It is very sad that people did not help,” said Khan.
Norm, not exception
This is far from the only instance in which Mumbaiites have refused to help accident victims. Earlier this month, 59-year-old Hilda Machado was knocked down by a speeding biker at Lucky Hotel junction in Bandra (West). Nobody came to her aid for a long time – not even a policeman who was directing traffic at the busy junction.
Machado’s case was reminiscent of the Goregaon hit-and-run in May, in which 22-year-old techie Archana Pandya died on the road after she was hit by a speeding vehicle while trying to cross the Western Express Highway. Not a single person came forward to help her.
Another case that highlighted the city’s apathy was that of a 19-year-old who was struck by a train near Tilak Nagar station. His body remained on the tracks for 20 minutes before the station master was informed of the incident. His mutilated body was finally taken away by railway staff with the help of a shoeshine boy.
A line on the Mumbai police’s website reads: “Please do help an accident victim; you may be one tomorrow.”
But deputy commissioner of police Dhananjay Kulkarni said, “People are still scared of approaching the police, and when they see an accident they avoid giving a statement. We appeal to people to help accident victims. They shouldn’t fear any harassment from us. We will even felicitate those who come forward to help.”
Senior lawyer Majeed Memon described the aftermath of Gadkar’s crash as heartrending. “It is a sad aspect that people have become so indifferent. Many are unwilling to help as they foresee trouble if they agree to become witnesses. Our way of dealing with witnesses also has to change,” Memon said.
BV Bhosale, a renowned sociologist, said, "People in the cities are increasingly becoming insensitive. In our daily lives, we don't want to get entangled with the law and the judicial process. Concern for the lives of others is missing. Instances of people stopping to help are very rare.”
Psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty meanwhile said that increasing levels of stress and an everyone-for-themselves mentality are to blame. "Compassion, empathy and altruism are considered old-fashioned ideas now. This era of globalisation may have put money in our pockets but has stolen our compassion.”
Former MP Milind Deora said, “We have to realise that we are all interdependent and that tomorrow, any one of us could be a victim. But I still believe there are still many Good Samaritans among us.”
Deora added that many who might otherwise be willing to help are reluctant to do so as they fear harassment from the police. "The onus, thus, lies with the government and the police. They must formulate and publish unambiguous guidelines for people who help accident victims," he added.