Are you an active bystander?

Daughter Harassed

Recently, a 36 year old cab driver was burned to death in North East Delhi whilst bystanders stood by recording videos and clicking pictures but no one called for help. This is not an isolated incident but something that seems to be recurring phenomena where most people seem to be mere spectators rather than active bystanders.

Last month, I spoke on the NDTV show “We The People” on this topic: Are we a nation of onlookers? The show was mainly focused on road accidents and how India has one of the highest accident mortality rates in the world.

The statistics are awful. There is one death every four minutes due to a road accident in India. Over 137,000 people were killed in road accidents in 2013 alone. That is more than the number of people killed in all our wars put together. But what is unacceptable is that most of these deaths are fatal because most victims never get the care that they require during the golden hour, i.e. the first hour post the accident. The Law Commission in a report in 2006 estimated that at least 50 per cent of accident victims would have survived if they had received the needed help within the hour of the accident.

The lack of intervention is due to the fear of bystanders that they could be hassled by a lengthy and intrusive police investigation or be subjected to harassment or the lengthy judicial process. So they often refrain from providing first aid or transporting the injured to the hospital. Many don’t even call for medical aid or police assistance or an ambulance.

This is such a big problem that one year ago this month, the Supreme Court of India passed the Good Samaritan law to protect the rights of bystanders who come to the aid and rescue of victims of road accidents. A Good Samaritan is a person who, in good faith, without expectation of payment or reward and without any duty of care or special relationship, voluntarily comes forward to administer immediate assistance or emergency care to a person injured in an accident, or crash, or emergency medical condition, or emergency situation. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in the absence of established emergency medical services, bystanders can play a game changing role in saving lives. They can call for help, provide first-aid to the injured and even rush them to the nearest hospital, if an ambulance does not arrive in time. For example in India, 70,000 deaths can be averted if the right help is provided in a timely manner to accident victims.

But the problem of passive bystanders is not limited to just road accident victims. On a daily basis there are people casually observing various forms of sexual violence on the streets or in neighbouring houses or at the workplace. Often in case of domestic violence, one can hear the cries for help emanating from behind closed doors. Yet no one wants to intervene or “interfere” with another family’s problems.

But the NGO Breakthrough’s powerful Bell Bajao campaign clearly showed how one could take action even if it was as simple as ringing a door bell and interrupting the violence. A New Zealand organisation showed how each person can be the agent of change through their powerful video “Who Are You?” thereby changing the trajectory of a rape or sexual assault situation.

So whilst we await the ratification of the Good Samaritan law in India by the local states, except Karnataka which has implemented it, I also hope the law can extend to other forms of violence such as sexual violence. It is important that all of us realise our civic and humanitarian duty towards our fellow citizens. Every positive action counts. Be it calling the police, giving first aid, ringing the bell or calling for help. If each of us does our bit and are active bystanders, the world will be a better and safer place.