The bystander effect
One thing that puzzled me about the Delhi-gang rape incident was that no one from the public were swift to help the girl and her friend even as they lay on street in pain for 40 minutes. I wondered what could be the reason behind this. Apparently, and besides the police inefficiency, it is quite a common phenomenon known as the ‘bystander effect’ - which suggests - greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. Well, this is worrisome - in the larger scheme of things - allow me to explain why.
1) This phenomenon exists the world over - and can occur anywhere - irrespective of whether it is a developed country, a developing country or a third world country.
2) But I believe, if it is a country where people trust the laws and police - it does encourage people to come forward and help.
3) Countries like India have a bigger problem - a) as it is, people are prone to bystander effect across the world b) but in India, distrust in police and law aggravates this problem to quite a different level.
These are some of the reasons why laws that would encourage and support people to stop crime are imperative. An atmosphere where citizens distrust the police and the government only gives rise to crime and lawlessness. And after all, why should humanity be compromised because of some red-tape or fear of getting involved?
In fact, governments across the world who are unable to provide friendly and trustful atmosphere to their citizens should be put on trial in international courts for human right violations. It must be considered criminal if a government does not do anything about issues that lead to distrust.
Nevertheless, and until governments begin to comprehend such things, there are few things that we as human beings can do for each other when someone is in emergency or needs help.
1) Rush to help the person in need - as soon as someone takes the lead - others will follow.
2) If you are an old lady or a man, be the one who calls the emergency number.
3) Most people have camera phones these days - use it and record the incident - if the police or the government doesn’t act swiftly - let the world see.
Bystander effect and social movements - could there be a relation?
I find it relevant to relate the bystander effect theory to some of the worlds biggest social movements. Gandhiji took the lead, people watched for sometime, and after a while joined him. Result: the Britishers were forced to leave. In the larger scheme of things - I would say - it is not just about noticing a crime and stopping an individual - it also about noticing the wrongs in the country, taking a lead or following someone who is taking the lead in the collective interest, and avoid being a bystander.
Are there countries where people feel truly secured to help someone in need? I interviewed some people in Europe, and most of them were sure that the police will assist them in 5-10 minutes (Needless to say, they have a very robust and efficient system there). Most people interviewed said they were “not scared to interact with the police in case of emergency” and that “they trust the police”. The video is blurred as I do not have their permission to put it online otherwise, but their faces hardly matter.
While working on the above video, I found two more videos, which I would recommend you to watch (embedded below).
What will you do if a stranger needs your help in emergency?
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