August 17, 2005

Spirit, stabbed

Thanks, Uma, for airing several troubling questions from the Gateway murder.

I was in Pune when I heard the news, and over the next three days, I’ve seen photographs of it in every paper. I can't help wondering, who took all these photographs? I doubt there was a fortuitous gathering of press photographers at the Gateway that evening. So who took the shots?

Obviously, various ordinary people who were there. The Gateway does have a mess of photographers hanging around, so some of them must have swung into action. But there must have also been enough people who whipped out their cellphone cameras and swung into action too. (Reminds me of the time an onloooker took a cellphone photo of a tsunami-destroyed life, and had a small horde gather round to peer at his digital trophy).

And you wonder, as people have wondered for forty years since Kitty Genovese died, why didn’t anyone at the Gateway swing into action to help? At least the people who watched Kitty die were in their surrounding apartments, watching from the windows. At the Gateway, they were right there, many must have been within handshaking distance when the stabbing began. How difficult would it have been for the crowds there to overpower a lone man, even a lone man armed with a long knife?

Just three weeks ago, in the middle of drenching tragedy, we found hope and upliftment in the "spirit" of this city. Where was that spirit, at the Gateway?

10 comments:

Truman said...

I guess what we have been acclaiming all this while, this "spirit"- maybe heartlessness is its main ingredient. And as evident, this "spirit" also lacks compassion. It's all so disturbing.

@mit said...

I think this is worse than the Genovese incident as the by standers in this case saw every move and the entire incident till the end. So sad...

The "ignorance" cannot be a spirit that Mumbai or any city will be proud of.

I commend Salil's efforts and his timely help in saving at least one of the victim.

As for the regional issue... I think we are playing into the trap of raising it by discussing this further. A human being was killed by a psychopath and the able bodied by standers were just onlookers after all...

Sriram said...

One thing I have noticed is that the concept of a community is very weak in India. Why is that? Thomas Jefferson once said - "When the government steps in, the society steps back."

Over decades, people have come to accept that everything will be done by the government. As a corollary, everything must happen through the government.

Till recently, when seriously injured patients would be brought to a hospital, the doctors wouldn't touch the patient until the police clears it. There cannot be a more striking example.

We, the people, should get together and resolve to fix our social problems (poverty, casteism, violence, drug abuse etc.) by ourselves socially - using tools like persuasion and peer pressure.

Not legally.

I bet the kind of behavior you are writing about is less common in rural areas than cities like Mumbai. Have you ever wondered why? It is because the presence of the government is much less in rural areas.

Think about it.

Quizman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Quizman said...

Dilip,

Behavior Psychologists categorize this as one of the Reinforcement Traps - called Case of the Missing Hero. It is a rather common tendency. The typical behavioral characteristics are:
- Each party pays attention to his/her own welfare. No one helps to improve the welfare of the group.
- Bystanders to crime - The larger the number of onlookers, the lower is the probability that someone will help

The solution that they recommend for discouraging this behavior is:
- praise and recognition for heroic acts
- removal of costs for helping

The above material is from my old OB class notes. :-)

uma said...

"Where was that spirit, at the Gateway?"

It's a question I've wondered about, too.

Man From Matunga said...

Sriram

Docs not touching seriously injured patients without police clearance only occurs in the movies... and maybe in hospitals not used to handling trauma. In Sion, KEM, Nair, JJ, etc, this is absolutely not true. Just FYI

Anand said...

That last question is indeed puzzling. I guess many would have liked to intervene, but they did not. May be in disasters like bomb blasts or natural calamities, there's a need for many people to come to help together, and someone taking the initiative encourages others to do their bit too. That doesn't answer as well, as here too one person did come to help but others remained mute witnesses.

kuffir said...

the city that never sleeps is also perhaps the city that never wakes up?

Kevin Rodrigues said...

I think the reason why many people dont react in any calamity in India is lack of awareness as to what to do when such an incident occurs. In countries where every human life is given more important, people are made aware about what to do in case of an emergency to help not only themselves but also others who need help. Also the government agencies in such countries swing into action as soon as a calamity occurs with warnings on every form of media and the personnel ready to carry out their tasks. Compare this to the floods in Mumbai where even after torrential rains and floods for hours, there was not a single warning or mention of a helpline by the government. Some of the radio stations did a good job by explaining the situation in various parts of Mumbai. The worse matter is that the government formed by any party would do the same thing. So this democracy that we have is like a choice between getting shot or getting hanged. I may sound like a pessimist but I dont see much improvement in the situation for many years to come. Maybe people can stop relying on the government and take up courses on survival techniques, on disaster management, etc. NGOs can help the people in this regard.