In two different horrific incidents in India, mobs waited and watched as two hapless people struggled with life, and due to lack of any humane intervention, they eventually died.
Last week, a 55-year-old cobbler in Pune caught fire when an electric transformer nearby blast. But instead of anybody rushing to douse the fire, people gathered around and while some watched in horror, few others filmed the “never-to-be-seen” accident in their mobile phones. They later uploaded it on YouTube.
The apathetic attitude of the crowd is evident in the statement of the victim’s son: “Even though my partially-disabled father shouted for help, nobody came forward. People were insensitive, and just wanted to see my father burning as if it was some drama in progress,” he told The Indian Express.
Shopkeepers around the area said that it would have been impossible for locals to contain the fire. Really? Was there no one who thought a few buckets of water could have averted the tragedy? Who in their right frame of minds film a man burning alive? If only one man would have thought of splashing a pail of water on the victim, others would have followed suit. Unfortunately, people thought it was a better idea to stay away, and catch the accident on their camera.
I wonder if they are gloating at the upvotes that they are getting on their YouTube upload. Has human life become so cheap that people now prefer virtual popularity than actually saving a person’s life? No wonder, bravery awards are given so much importance; courage is actually a rare trait.
In another incident in Kerala, more than 50 people watched as Kailash Jyoti Borah, a migrant worker from Assam who was mistaken for a thief, tied up, struggled to free himself in his final moments. The 29-year-old was foaming at the mouth after staying in the sun for close to four hours, but not a single person called an ambulance.
One bystander narrated how although Borah was writhing in agony, people refused to untie him, thinking he was trying to escape. Villagers said they failed to comprehend his language. “He might have sought water from these houses, but our people could not understand him,” one villager said.
It is appalling that a dying man’s cries are misunderstood by an entire group of onlookers to be the fleeing attempts, and so many villagers failed to understand the simple demand for a glass of water.
Psychologists call this apathy the ‘bystander effect’. It is a social psychological phenomenon in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. Shockingly, the probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders intervening in an emergency situation.
Social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley popularized the concept following the infamous 1964 Kitty Genovese murder in New York City. Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment while bystanders who observed the crime did not step in to assist or call the police. In Genovese’s case, each onlooker concluded from their neighbors inaction that their own personal help was not needed.
It feels so helpless to know that love and sympathy doesn’t always crosses boundaries. Rather, it sometimes prevents us from getting out of our narrow comfort zone, and then shield our fears and apathy with all kind of lame excuses.