testimony of the friend of the Delhi
gangrape victim on Zee News held up a disturbing mirror to our society. The
gross callousness, cowardice and voyeurism displayed by the bystanders, as well
as the cars and autos that passed by the badly injured gangrape victim and her
friend, proves the truth of the popular saying: “yatha raja, tatha praja (the
quality of the rulers determines the quality of the subjects)”.
in a democracy — even a flawed one like ours — citizens cannot disown their
responsibility and wait for rulers to set things right. A democracy gives you
some scope to turn this saying on its head: “yatha praja, tatha raja (the
quality of the subjects determines the quality of the rulers)”.
common reason given by people coming to the rescue of victims of violence or
road accidents is that the police not only harasses such do-gooders, but also
tries to implicate them in the accident. As perverse as the police is in India, my
experience tells me that the police know the difference between honest and
crooked citizens. The real problem arises when the police are already on the
scene but neither doing the needful nor letting citizens help the victim.
first encounter with the voyeuristic tamashbeen mentality of citizens was when
I was eight or nine. I had gone to Connaught
Place (C.P) in Delhi
with an aunt who was just past her teens at the time. We were walking in the
inner circle of CP when we saw a car moving at high speed hit a young man with
such force that he was sent flying in the air before he crashed to the ground.
People picked him up from the street to prevent him getting run over by other
cars, but did not go beyond dumping the profusely bleeding and badly injured
man in the verandah of CP’s inner circle. They just stood and watched as though
it was a scene out of a movie. I suggested to my aunt that we take him to a
hospital in a taxi but she pulled me away, saying it was not good to get
involved in such situations. I was too young to have my say on that day.
the memory of that writhing body and citizen passivity left such a deep imprint
that without any formal declaration, I made a vow to myself: I would never walk
away when a fellow citizen needed my help. Since then, I have taken several
accident victims to hospitals. As luck would have it, in each case the person’s
life was saved due to timely medical help, even when the victims had suffered
I began doing it much before I came to own a car, it was always auto rickshaw
drivers who agreed to carry the victim to hospital. Car owners did not help
even once. All I had to do was to assure the auto driver that I would assume
full responsibility for taking the injured person to hospital and that his name
would not be brought in at all.
is a somewhat melodramatic but true to life example of the deadly consequences
of our indifference to fellow citizens. I was still a student in those days,
and was travelling on a Delhi Transport Corporation bus when I saw two young
men bleeding on the road after their two-wheeler was hit by a speeding bus. I
got off the bus and rushed to the accident site. A big crowd had gathered
around the injured men. A few motorists also stopped to have a peek. None of
them agreed to help me take the two men to hospital. I waved at every car that passed
by. None stopped. Finally an auto driver agreed on condition that his identity
would be protected from the police. The doctors at the hospital told me that
since both had suffered brain haemorrhage, further delay in medical help would
have meant certain death. Imagine my surprise when two months later, the two
young men, along with their respective fathers, came to our house to tell me
that both of them had passed the accident spot and seen me trying to stop
passing cars to carry the victims to hospital. They too had stopped
momentarily, looked from a distance at the injured men, but decided to drive
away, thinking, why invite trouble?
elite cannot build islands of prosperity and safety for themselves amidst a sea
of lawlessness and uncaring citizens. This callousness doesn’t stop at unknown
victims of violence or accidents. It also extends to immediate neighbors,
close relatives. It saddens me no end when people from far and near places
phone Manushi to say my daughter, sister or such-and-such woman in my
neighborhood or extended family is suffering daily beatings and might end up
dead. In most instances, families and neighbors expect distant organisations
or the police to come to the woman’s rescue.
more effective way of combating domestic and other forms of violence is for
each neighborhood to create its own helpline and rush to the rescue of the
woman being battered. Once families know they are being watched by their
neighbors, who will not hesitate to bring in the police if the abusive behaviour
is not halted, they do invariably act with more restraint.
the best police force cannot be a substitute for a caring and vigilant
neighborhood. For example, when a young man in my old neighborhood was caught
trying to molest a teenage girl, leading families in the neighborhood simply
blackened his face and made him go around the block of houses in his underpants
with folded hands saying, “I seek forgiveness for my misbehavior”. This
happened 25 years ago, but the message went home good and proper. From then
until I left the area, one never saw young or old men indulge in offensive
behavior. I don’t think a police or court case would have achieved the same
result. In fact, it would have traumatized the victim further and in all
likelihood led to acquittal, or her withdrawing the case due to the
soul-destroying legal process one is subjected to.
such exemplary social control mechanisms can evolve only when we maintain
active links with our neighbors and develop a culture of routine acts of
sharing and caring. By living atomized, disconnected lives, we are endangering
our own lives. Our families spend a great deal of energy in teaching us to be
good sons, responsible daughters, caring sisters, mothers, wives, husbands and
so on. Our schools and colleges hammer us to be good disciplined students. But
neither family nor educational institutions train us to be responsible
citizens, starting with our own neighborhood. Instead, we discourage our
children from getting involved. If we all take charge of our neighborhoods,
the rest will follow automatically.
First published in The Indian Express (See link: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/next-time-don-t-walk-away/1059969/0)