As the Delhi gangrape victim lay naked, bleeding and dying on the road on the cold night of December 16, this is what happened. Cars and two-wheelers passing by slowed down, the occupants had a look at her and fled; the police arrived and fought over the issue of jurisdiction; and none of the onlookers thought it appropriate to cover the body of the girl, if not to protect her from cold, to save her naked body from public gaze.
Presumably many of the occupants of the vehicles were educated, some of them were women, and some had kids with them. Some of them would be from families with grown-up girls amid them. No one felt they had a responsibility to the girl lying on the sidewalk. The talk of them fearing getting embroiled in police matters is utter rubbish. It’s convenient afterthought, a self-serving and weak justification for evading a humane act that could have saved someone’s life.
People reach out to others in distress instinctively. It’s reflexive action. They don’t calculate the consequences, simply because at that particular point their minds are preoccupied with the concern for the other person. Would the reaction be the same had the victim someone close to them? It’s something intensely human. The response of the onlookers suggest that our instincts have got dehumanised.
The police were busy settling jurisdictional issues for close to half an hour as the girl bled from her wounds. And when they decided to act they refused to carry the victim to the van as there was blood on her body. We won’t get an official explanation but it is possible they did not want their uniforms dirtied. If the version of the friend of the girl is to be believed nobody, bothered to cover her with a piece of cloth even when she was admitted to the hospital. It’s insensitivity at its worst.
Obvious nobody – the police, the onlookers and the occupants of the vehicles – was bothered about the girl. All were worried about themselves. None wanted trouble. If she lived or died was her business. The police wanted to avoid departmental hassles and the people who could have intervened were wary of, as they would plead now, of police hassles. Since when a human life became a hassle? Something is seriously out of joint somewhere. People in cities are getting increasingly insensitive towards each other.
The facts of the case as narrated by the victim’s friend could be disputed. In fact, as the piece is being written, the Delhi Police have come up with a point by point rebuttal of his charges. As is usual in India, we will never get to know the truth. But the crux of the matter is not the veracity of facts, but the general apathy from all quarters surrounding the incident. The girl would still be alive after being raped if people around had been more sensitive.
In October 2011, the nation shuddered in horror at the murder of Reuben Fernandez, 28, and Keenan Santos, 25, in Mumbai. The bravehearts objected when a group of youth behaved indecently with the girls accompanying them in a Mumbai bar and were attacked with choppers in retaliation. There were onlookers in this case too. None intervened. The police arrived late as usual. Not in all cases that happen in our cities the victims get raped or murdered but the constant sidestory in all the cases of criminal harassment has an unwavering theme: public apathy and police indifference.
Who’s responsible for a situation like that? Well, we easily get into blame games. That is one escapist solution readily available to us. The public puts the blame on the police and the police on someone else. All of us blame the government and the politicians. Is there scope for introspection beyond all the blaming? Emotional expressions in public don’t absolve us of our guilt. The circumstances of the girl in Delhi shames us all. Let’s begin thinking.