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Helping accident victims and doing our duty as citizens

October 13, 2007

John F. Kennedy‘s famous words:

Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country

are words that every Indian knows only too well, in spirit I mean. The government and the media does ask a lot from us common citizens. In fact if things go tragically wrong, citizens can be blamed and called heartless. There are similar such situations in many cities in India. Just a small example.

Recently, young Chinmay Bedekar bled to death on the Eastern Express Highway in Mumbai (not a crowded road, but yes the traffic is fast and busy with mostly motorists and commercial vehicles frequenting the highway) because no one could get him to hospital in time. A lot of vehicles whizzed by without helping. Reportedly even a vehicle with policemen passed by but they did not take the victim to hospital:

Minutes after the accident, a police Sumo heading towards Thane stopped at the spot. The driver stepped out to check what was happening. But when we asked him to take the victims to a hospital, he offered lame excuses and left. Since he was a cop, we could not even force him to help us,” said Rajiv Sharma, a Thane resident who was on his way to work in Mumbai but had stopped to try and help the victims.

Mumbai is taking the accusation that they are heartless to heart, and college students in Mumbai/Thane are trying to raise awareness about helping accident victims. Its a very good initiative and certainly we all need to imbibe noble virtues such as stopping and helping accident victims, and I look forward to a time when citizens feel it is their duty to put aside all personal apprehensions and help victims. After all it can be a matter of life and death.

A major apprehension amongst citizens is the fear of harrassment by the police. People believe that the police harass those who bring in accident victims, and infact even doctors believe that they will be harassed if they treat the victims. Of late the police have been insisting that does/will not happen anymore…that questions will not be asked, but the reality on the ground is that no one believes it.

Why don’t people just call the ambulance services? Ambulance services do exist, but not only is awareness low, people who do know about them have little faith that the service will arrive in time. How many people have the numbers of ambulance services by heart?

But I don’t believe that citizens don’t help. Why just recently, a 75 year old man was taken to hospital by the people, after being knocked down by a tanker. In a rickshaw. Sadly, he was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

Citizens play cops too

Just to give another example of how much citizens do is a story in the Mumbai Mirror just today. It’s about a 20-year-old student of SNDT College whose bag was snatched at a railway station. She chased the thief, dangerously crossing tracks with trains zipping by, and actually caught hold of his collar! The thief held his ears and apologized to her…imagine just a slip of a girl did this! There was also this case of a boy cop, who caught a man who had robbed him by staking out the railway station for a good 22 days!! These are the stories of the heroes and heroines of our city but to expect such heroism from the average citizen is not practical.

What’s a good citizen? All this made me think about what a good or ideal citizen is all about. Here are some answers (the definitions below are not in my own words, but are mostly quotes, with minor changes):

[1] Good citizens understand that they have a responsibility to the community, environment and law.
[2] Vital work carried out in the community by individuals or groups who expect nothing in return for their efforts.
[3] Being an ideal citizen means first being a good husband and a good father, being honest in his dealings, faithful and fearless…these being as important as the civil and military duties.
[4] Being a good citizen goes well beyond voting, jury duty, and community service. It involves doing work that reminds us of our heritage, helps us better understand our government, promotes a sense of community, and keeps individuals and families strong…

Traits of a bad citizen
Looking out only for yourself.
Littering and wasting resources.
Leaving all political matters to the so-called “experts.”

Well, I guess there are other definitions and explanations too, but what finally matters is what the individual himself believes are his duties, what his own life situation is. One does tend to expect more from well-to-do educated individuals. And while Kennedy’s words have echoed in my mind since I was a child, I think it’s natural to expect something from our government and our police. And yes, some understanding from our media.

(All pictures are from Mumbai Mirror)

Related Reading: An accident relief centre that closed down
Road accidents in India

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2007 1:50 pm

    according to law….
    if any citizen who carries an accident victim to a hospital does not have to disclose his/her name…
    on the contrary he can also charge the police the reimbursement for the taxi charges.

  2. October 13, 2007 1:54 pm

    Thanks Ankur for giving that vital piece of information.
    The problem is that few people know it and that is why they fall victim to the harassment.

  3. October 13, 2007 2:18 pm

    Nita:

    I think the sheer volume of humanity/ population in India devalues life in the eyes of many negotiating their way through the throngs. One death or 100s it is just a statistic.

    Where populations are smaller and sparser, every life is an event; but when many die, it becomes a statistic.

    Sometimes distance makes things harder to comprehend too. Temporally also. The holocaust means a piece of history, but then there are individual stories like Anne Frank’s or photos and stories told by individuals. That makes it more real.

    As Ankur suggests the cultural aspect of harrassing the helper is a key factor in why people do not stop to help..

    Good post. Sad though.

  4. October 13, 2007 6:35 pm

    Nita – How many people neglect to act on behalf of others because it inconveniences them? However, think of so much self-pity we experience when we are ourselves in dire need? Caring for each other is a “virtue”. But these days there is a reversal of the desirability of virtuous behaviour and self-interested egotism. The real heroes are ones that fight this trend. G

  5. October 13, 2007 7:59 pm

    I try to put myself in the same situation when I read about victims being ignored. Would I help? I think so, because of my training as a teacher, and as a mother. It has to do with empathy.

    Probably the police are overworked, and are losing their ability to care. I found myself feeling the same as a teacher, another service job, which is why I’ve switched professions.

    I’ve read of psychological studies of crowds in NY, and how people ignore victims. One study suggested that the victim single out one person in the crowd (if the vicitm is conscious) and plead with that person to help. I read about one of these studies in Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell.

  6. October 13, 2007 8:23 pm

    As Shefaly remarked, life in third world countries is ….CHEAP.
    It has no value, unless the patient/victim is a VVIP.
    And people also react to this feeling, and turn their faces away when faced with this situation. Dehumanising though this is, this is the absolute, core truth about Indian society. If there is one difference between India and the West, it is this.

  7. October 13, 2007 10:07 pm

    Thanks all for the response.🙂
    Shefaly, Doc, true, life is cheap here, its evident in every walk of life in India.
    Surburban, I guess putting oneself in another’s shoes is a rare quality too!
    And Christina, I too have wondered the same thing! What would I do in these circumstances. And I can safely answer yes, I would stop and help…but that is today when I am older and wiser. I don’t know whether I would have 15 years ago when my children were little, when every minute of my time was precious…I might have helped ofcourse If I thought I was absolutely needed….or even otherwise…I don’t know, I am not sure…and I was never tested.
    But today yes, I can confidently say I would help.

  8. amreekandesi permalink
    October 14, 2007 4:44 am

    Regarding helping accident victims on the road – it is unfortunate but even people who might help dont do so for fear of the legal hassles.

    I remember a few (3 probably) years ago there was this incident where a person got hit by a train on a bombay track and bled to death right there on the platform, even as people all around were running to catch the train. In today’s fast paced life, who has the time to pause for someone?

    Though, I would like to think that times are changing and Indians are becoming more aware of their civic responsibilities. It might be a few years before we start seeing results, but we will get there.

    Full credit to writers such as you doing such a wonderful job spreading awareness about these issues.

  9. October 14, 2007 8:39 am

    Amreekandesi, thanks.
    I am not at all surprised by that incident. Its time our common citizens realised that the only people who they have to depend upon is themselves…sure it means a bit of suffering…but any of us could be in that situation tomorrow…and we know we cannot depend on the authorities.
    In fact there was this recent incident in a mumbai surburban local of an unconscious woman in a railway compartment. A person in the compartment informed the railway people but they did nothing!! You can read about it here –
    Quoting from the news report:

    In a shocking incident that points to the abysmal level of policing in Mumbai, a woman in her mid-30s was found naked and unconscious on a CST-Titwala train’s first class ladies compartment on Saturday night.

    The unidentified woman travelled the entire 65-km distance between the two stations in that condition with no help forthcoming from a single commuter. In a display of utter apathy which puts the city to shame, both policemen and commuters chose to steer clear of the ladies compartment fearing they would get entangled in legal hassles.

    Finally it was a commuter who did what was required:

    Krishnakant Mishra, an eyewitness who boarded the same train in an adjoining gents first class compartment, told TOI that he noticed the woman lying on the floor when the train had reached the Sion station. ‘I immediately inform-ed a police constable. However, the constable vanished from there soon after hearing the complaint,” said Mishra.

    The follow up to the story can be read here – a small para from there:

    When asked why he didn’t pull the chain, Mishra said, “Initially I thought she was a mentally disturbed woman, so I thought of informing the police. But since the constable just vanished to save their skin, I decided to inform some top brass police official about the mysterious incident,” said Mishra.

    So you see, even the policemen who are on duty at the station are not interested in helping. They are right there on the spot andthere is no question of time or anything, but something is holding them back. I am sure its because they feel they will get into trouble…or well, that must be part of the reason.

  10. October 14, 2007 10:15 pm

    This is one of the reasons why I left Mumbai. I found myself getting more and more dehumanized. I started becoming impervious to human suffering.

    I was going to write a post about this once. When waiting for my 9:51 am local train to take me to work, I am standing on a crowded platform, and see the train approaching. Someone jumps in front of the train comitting suicide and the train stops there itself. It doesn’t come to the platform. What is my response?

    I and everyone else on the crowded platform curse. We cross the bridge to the other platform where we take the ‘slow’ local to work. We just curse ‘our’ bad luck.

    This is what living in Mumbai – the commercial capital of a one-billion-plus country does to you. That’s why I left it. It was too dehumanizing for me to handle.

  11. oemar permalink
    October 15, 2007 3:22 am

    Just my thought…… life is cheap here if it isnt yours… and the police harrassment plays a major role in it… I remember some incidents form my college days where some police guys had been after a student for some money…. his only fault was he brought in the accident victim to the hospital and stayed till the police came to give his statement.. its a 2-way change, from the authorities and the citizens thats needed

  12. October 15, 2007 7:34 am

    Mahendra, big cities can have that effect on us, true, because everyone is so busy that they have no time and soon enough we can get affected by their inability or unwillingness to help others.
    But overall I do not have this impression of Mumbai, although I am not a Mumbaikar!
    I was here during the july 06 floods and the way people helped each other was simply amazing. There are so many incidents which are personal experiences of people close to me, incidents which happened in different parts of the city that I have a very good impression of Mumbai!
    However not of cops. On that day it was a rare cop, municipal authority figure or in in fact any authority figure which helped people. Mostly they rushed home to save their families…I am not saying that’s wrong, just stating the facts.
    I know you might say this is not representative of what happens everytime, but I think it is. This was a huge tragedy and I see what happened in America in a similar situation, where people took advantage of the homelessness and the hunger and there was rape, murder and mayhem.
    Also, there are other incidents, as to what happened immediately after the train blasts. ordinary people helped and helped in a big way although this time cops arrived too. but the commuters were there first.

    Oemar, in fact I would go a step further and say that cops need to set an example to the ordinary public. But we forget that they are actually, the public!🙂

  13. wishtobeanon.... permalink
    October 15, 2007 7:31 pm

    If the authorities start behaving like role models and become actual everyday heroes, the common citizens will start respecting them and probably emulate them too. In the US, I have great respect for the cops and firemen here because they actually care to help. Little kids are taught to respect and emulate them. Firemen are brought to school and made to teach the kids fire saftey or cops come to school to talk about their profession. Good cops need to be rewarded handsomely so that they become an inspiration for other cops. But as far as ordinary citizens are concerned in India, I think it is poor people who are much more ready to help victims.
    It is very sad. Thanks for posting such articles.

  14. October 15, 2007 7:49 pm

    Thanks to you too wishtobeanon for your response. You have echoed my own feelings, about the role models.

  15. October 18, 2007 12:23 pm

    here is the official link to the government circular about revealing the identity and the reimbursement. which Poonam had requested
    http://morth.nic.in/index2.asp?sublinkid=119&langid=2

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