The Bystander Effect: Painful Public Apathy And Rise In Crimes

News World India | 8
| October 24 , 2017 , 19:56 IST

The country known for its rising economic might and boasting of the youngest population in the world is soon becoming one of the worst places to be a woman. On October 23rd, a mentally ill woman was raped in broad daylight by a 20-year-old man and the only passer-by who chose to react decided to film the crime rather than stop it.

The video that leaves your stomach churning and your mind trapped in a circle of endless questions asking - Why no one chose to stop this heinous act, why didn’t they care?

The autorickshaw driver, who filmed the rape, reported it to the police. The man was arrested and the woman sent to the hospital. The incident, however, continues to trouble you for days as one tries to understand the apathy we hold against each other, is it just only towards women or is it generic to us- being caught in this bystander effect.

The incident is a gruesome reminder of the uncomfortable truth that we aren’t prepared to reach out for a neighbour as also a testament of a huge problem that comes to fore in crimes that happen across the country and city. Most of the passers-by choose to ignore or save themselves trouble, rather than reach out to help. I am not going to act from a moral high-ground and say I would have done the needful because I don’t know how a person normally reacts to such a situation. We all scream from our social media accounts but action in real life takes courage.

As UNICEF Principal Gender Advisor, Anju Malhotra once said in light of such events - "Outrage is not enough, we need action now to end this brutality that has become routine and to give the victims of violence the justice and protection they deserve”.

In a time where #MeToo is trending all over the world and women are speaking against such violence we need to probably delve deeper into the issues of misogyny, lack of gender sensitization and the hugely relevant by-stander effect in the present case.

According to government statistics, a woman in India is raped, on average, every 22 minutes. The fatal 2012 gang rape of a student on a bus in Delhi highlighted the grim frequency of sexual assaults in the country and led to tougher laws and sentences in rape cases, however, the bystander effect psyche continues to trouble.

As children, we are taught not to meddle in others' affairs. It's easy to sit in our rooms and engage in online activism but standing up for what is right in real life doesn’t come easy. The Vizag case is not a stand-alone, in fact, there are so many cases from recent past that it makes you feel that there is a ‘Chronic Social Degradation’ underway in Indian society.


- On June 24, 2016, Swathi, the young software professional suffered a fatal attack on the platform of the Nungambakkam station on the morning of June 24, 2016.


- In 2012 a 20-year-old girl was molested outside a bar in Guwahati for a half an hour in full public.


- In 2008, two NRI women were molested by a mob when they came out of JW Marriott in Juhu on New Year's Eve.


- In 2002, a drunk man raped a mentally challenged girl in the second class compartment of a local train in the presence of five other commuters.                                      

Whether it’s sheer lack of apathy or getting caught in fear of getting entangled in long-drawn police/court battles or even fear for one's own life, the result remains that such instances of harassment of victims in full public view will keep happening. In most cases, .one person intervening can make a difference and probably could have changed the fate of the victim as when one person comes forth, it gives courage to the bystanders to come forward too instead of becoming symbolic of a complete collapse of community consciousness. 

Honestly, it is really hard to understand how such attacks can take place as brazenly as they did. However, what continues to trouble me is I do not understand what actually stops people from acting and how do we deal with such phenomenon. Are these incidents just a repetition of what we now know as the bystander effect? Or is it a reflection of increasing absence of altruism? After the latest incident yesterday I tried to seek answers and found some reason in two social phenomena that could be behind such apathy.

I articulate these to help reason but never to justify the inaction. I believe understanding our inaction will hopefully make sure we recognize the signs and push ourselves to make a difference the next time.

The painful irony of the Bystander Effect

In 1964, in New York City, a young woman named Kitty Genovese, was stabbed and raped right outside her apartment. None of the neighbours stepped out in spite of hearing Kitty screaming desperately for more than ten minutes. Social psychologists who studied what later became known as the ‘Bystander Effect’ or ‘Genovese Syndrome’, observed that “contrary to common expectations, larger numbers of bystanders decrease the likelihood that someone will step forward and help a victim.” The reasons include the reality that onlookers see that others are not helping either, that they believe others will know better how to help, and themselves feel uncertain about helping while others are only watching. Diffusion of responsibility

When people act as a group, the individual feels he is absolved of the repercussions of his action. There is a certain diffusion of responsibility that occurs in ‘Mob Mentality’ because of the anonymity provided by being part of a group. The opposite of this aggressive behaviour is an entire group choosing to be passive by consciously absolving self of responsibility to take a moral or ethical stance. The larger the community the bigger is this irresponsibility. In big cities, the majority is content to live totally absorbed in issues relevant only to themselves and their immediate family and of course, we have no time beyond our busy chase for survival.

So what then should be done to reduce such public apathy?

Behavioural changes have to be initiated early when the mind is young because as someone wise said it is easier to build stronger children than repair adults. We as a nation boasting of this young population have a lot of responsibility weighing on us and must be prepared for the long haul for change to show, spanning across at least two generations, to see any perceptible change and increased altruism among masses. Social responsibility needs to be inculcated as importantly as the mindless pursuit of percentages. Subjects like Moral Science and Civics are discarded by the wayside and there is no conscious investment for productive progeny in today’s classrooms. This has to be corrected. We need to address issues at the bud.  Because no bystander effect will keep you at bay when your loved one is in danger, the point is that to a certain degree we are trained to not care beyond us.

Especially in our diverse culture, we have unique issues. The social values in India are highly skewed. We need to train to change mindsets, whether towards a woman or each other. Behavioural responses as a collective begin young and that’s where we must begin. Yes! it will take time but we must begin now because as Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”


Does this really need a comment..??? What the hell our SC is doing..?? Are they really feeling ashamed of what's going on?? Disgusting..????