Are Indians hard-wired to apathy? What the Visakhapatnam rape exposes

DailyBiteOct 23, 2017 | 19:56

Are Indians hard-wired to apathy? What the Visakhapatnam rape exposes

On one end of the spectrum, we have seen women breaking the silence, talking about sexual abuse, the complicity of men in India’s rape culture and the patriarchal notions that hold us back. On the other, we have incidents as horrifying as this: Visakhapatnam on October 22, a Sunday afternoon, witnessed a mentally ill homeless woman being raped by a drunken man. No one stopped him, people continued to walk by, and what more, an auto-driver who was on the road shot a video of the incident.


According to the police, it was the auto-driver who reported the incident with the video for evidence. The incident took place in New Railway Colony between Tadichetlapalem and the railway station at around 2.30pm. The ghastly clip shows the woman being raped on a footpath, in broad daylight, by a man in a blue shirt and jeans. The apathy of the people passing by, not even attempting to intervene, can be seen in this shameful video.

According to various reports, the accused has been identified as Ganji Siva, a 23-year-old truck cleaner, who was arrested by the police the same evening. He has been booked under section 376 of the Indian Penal Code.

According to the police, the woman was sleeping on the footpath when the accused Siva, in an inebriated condition, forced himself upon her. She was, as per Visakhapatnam IV town police sub-inspector K Suresh, very weak as she had not eaten for several hours.

File photo/AFP

Speaking to Hindustan Times, Suresh commented upon the apathy of the general public, who wilfully ignored this gross sexual assault in broad daylight: “It clearly shows how the people have become insensitive to attacks on women.”


Bystander apathy in India is not a new phenomenon. Most people, in fear of getting caught in the middle of police investigations and court cases, choose to ignore crime that often takes place in front of their own eyes. But it’s not always the idea of mere inconvenience that stops people from intervening. It is also fear of assault. The News Minute notes several cases of bystander apathy, including the Jyoti Singh (Nirbhaya) rape case in Delhi, in the Swathi murder case in Chennai.

In a Wall Street Journal article from 2013, economist Rupa Subramanya argues that “basic economic concepts such as incentives, and a sophisticated understanding of altruistic behaviour coming out of evolutionary biology, can help explain why these things happen”.

Subramanya argues that most bystanders, even if driven by an altruistic impulse, will most likely weigh the benefit in helping someone in need against the costs to themselves. The incompetence of authorities adds to this. Good Samaritans, she says, often end up being harassed by the police, wrongly accused themselves of being the perpetrators.

But it’s not all pure rationalisation. The bystander effect is as much a product of our culture and upbringing, as it is can be the result of self-preservation. Psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty calls it a complete collapse of the community consciousness.


“[The bystander effect] typifies the Indian psyche. We are taught from a very young age not to meddle in others' affairs. It's easy to sit in your drawing room and have conversations on standing up for what is right. But when it comes to helping someone who is not a part of your family or friends' circle, people tend not to intervene. Taking a stand and rocking the boat is not part of our psyche," he said, speaking to Times of India.

This is a trait that we have long exhibited and was recently called out by women on social media, who rallied under a countercurrent moment called "Me Too". The culture of silence, the culture of apathy, the culture of "this is not my problem" is most prevalent when it comes to gendered crimes. 

“Do not ignore an incident of gender violence, however small or big. Do not walk away as if nothing happened,” advises TNM in the report, trying to provide a rudimentary “Dos and Don’ts” for the general public, in an effort to, perhaps stop an incident like this from taking place.

But is a “Dos and Don’ts” list and a few words of courage enough to fuel Indians, and make them stray from their acceptable stance of observing a crime without intervening, and later commenting about the lack of law and order in the country? Perhaps not. Cultural reasons, or economic ones, we are hardwired for apathy and cowardice.

Last updated: October 23, 2017 | 20:14
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