On May 28, when a 16-year-old girl was being brutally stabbed repeatedly in Delhi’s Rohini, many others living or visiting this neighbourhood were just passing by while merely looking at the boy use a knife first and then a cemented boulder to injure the girl, who was later reporter dead. This act of ferocious revenge by the accused was caught on camera by the nearest CCTV, and has lead to the recurrent and horrifying question of — Is this the society we live in, which refuses to intervene and stop a crime from being committed?
What are we doing as a society when we see crimes happening in front of us? “Barely anything,” says Roop Kumar Singh, owner of a mobile shop in Katwaria Sarai, who was recently a victim of theft. “Hardly a month ago, my shop was looted by two men who put me on gunpoint. It still sends shivers down the line when I think about the incident. But this happened in broad daylight, and there were so many people outside in the market but not a single soul came to help even after seeing that my life was at stake. In fact, nobody even informed the police to take action! I didn’t expect the owners and workers at neighbouring shops to jump in and risk their lives, but they could have done something to save me.”
There are several incidents wherein those at the receiving end share how they looked up to others for support but were left disheartened. One among them is Harshita Kharbanda, a Delhi University student who takes a bus to from Pitampura to her college in South Campus. She shares, “I travel on the same route everyday, and this one time I called out a guy who was misbehaving with me. Even when I was shouting at him on the top of my voice, none of my co-passengers stood up to ask him get off the bus. Not even the conductor! I had to finally get off at the next stop because I couldn’t withstand the guy.”
The fact that people simply watch when someone is being hurt, thinking it’s the personal matter of someone else, is now heightening the concern of whether we live in a society or alone. Dependra Pathak, special commissioner of police, law & order, Delhi Police, says, “Law permits one to intervene, if anyone is seen killing someone. Secondly, society is a very essential part of where we live. Any metropolitan city is anonymous as such incidents wouldn’t happen in a village. It’s our natural duty as an individual in a community to have a reasonable level of alertness and feeling of responsibility if we see anything happening around us. If anyone is doing anything wrong thinking nobody will intervene, next victim could be us. So we need to improve basic community living. If you spot a crime happening, dial 100 or 112.”
Dr Pankaj Kumar Verma, consultant psychiatrist, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), says, “The causes behind why people are choosing not to react towards such incidents are many, though the very basic is the lack of growing empathy in people. Previously, interpersonal relationships of people were strong which is why people were concerned, now, the very first question they ask themselves is – If the person next to me is not helping, why should I jump in? Or what if I jump in and then I’m criticised for the intervention? This individualistic approach is what makes people think of saving oneself than to report such crimes.” Verma further adds about how the “temperament of the accused” can be one of the reasons behind such a gruesome act: “It is the lack of regulation of one’s emotions and how they cannot control their impulsive nature that such crimes come into being. People like the accused do not have the fear of consequences as they might just not simply register the possibility of repercussions while they are committing the crime.”
Turning away, not done!
Rajesh Tailang, actor, Delhi Crime web series, says, “The question isn’t this that I felt bad seeing people walk past while the girl was being attacked, but the question is what would have happened if it was you or me in place of those bystanders? Kuchh toh humari society mein hi gadbad hai. I don’t know what would I have done… I couldn’t watch the whole video. We need to find villains in ourselves and not just others.”
Geeta Chandran, classical dancer: “The lackadaisical apathy of the onlookers is simply shocking. Had I been in their place, my first reaction would be to save the girl. That’s the basic reaction! I have done this in the past for my house help and people I have known to be victims of domestic violence. I feel its my moral responsibility to intervene when it comes to someone’s life. Disgusting.”
Swati Maliwal, chairperson, Delhi Commission for Women: “DCW gets approximately 2,000 calls every day, which includes at least six rape cases. The basic understanding is that people do not help other people and simply run away from such incidents. One can overcome this only when the criminals tend to have some fear in them. Currently, criminals lack any fear as there is no strong deterrence to crime. If every case is brought to some logical conclusion, then surely a lot will change.”
Is the Bystander Effect gripping the nation?
3 February 2023: Man kills wife with iron rod on Hyderabad road as passersby watch.
21 December 2022: A 30-year-old Delhi man thrashed, stabbed to death in Badarpur’s Tajpur Pahadi area as people watch.
23 October 2022: Injured 13-year-old UP girl’s cry for help fell on deaf ears as people were busy filming her.
2 October 2022: A 21-year-old man was stabbed to death in Delhi’s Sundar Nagri. The stabbing took place in full view of the people, who watched the scene from afar or walked on even as the three individuals kept stabbing the victim.