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File photo. The outrage that it provoked woke the Delhi police from its Kumbhakarna-like slumber and they had to take the accused into custody. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
File photo. The outrage that it provoked woke the Delhi police from its Kumbhakarna-like slumber and they had to take the accused into custody. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

The making of a heartless nation

We don't react to crimes against women in public places or come to the help of accident victims

Not just Delhi, it would appear that the entire country has become heartless.

I am writing these lines with mixed emotions of sadness, anger and shame. It seems that the Indian civilization has put its good qualities on the back-burner and joined the blind race for economic progress which is meaningless without the safety of its citizens.

If you don’t believe me, consider this shameful incident that took place in Delhi. A student of Delhi University was travelling in a Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus. Seated next to her, a man began to masturbate looking at the student. I am feeling ashamed just writing these words: Imagine the mentality of the pervert who was carrying out this act in public. The girl objected, but this didn’t deter the man. She raised an alarm to attract the attention of others travelling in the bus, to no avail. On top of this, the bus driver and conductor remained indifferent to it all. Is this why they call Delhi a heartless city?

Despite the betrayal of her fellow passengers and the DTC staff, the young student didn’t lose heart. She bravely recorded this abominable act on her mobile and put it out on Twitter. The outrage that it provoked woke the Delhi Police from its Kumbhakarna-like slumber and they had to take the accused into custody. Until now, the Delhi government, which has been appealing to people’s conscience in the name of victims of sexual and other violence, has not penalized either the bus driver or the conductor. Shouldn’t such insensitive and callous employees be suspended or put behind bars?

You may want to salute the courage and resolve of the girl, but what will you say about her fellow passengers? They deserve to be condemned as much as the perpetrator. A society is created on the bedrock of cooperation and social harmony. Our harmony has already been sacrificed at the altar of communalism and casteism. Now, if social cooperation also flounders, how safe will we remain in this jungle raj? If you look for an answer to his question, you’ll really feel afraid.

You must realise that this DTC bus wasn’t passing through some deserted forest. Neither was the perpetrator of the obscene act an armed terrorist. Had they so desired, people could have stopped him or informed the police by dialling 100. Even if one of the bus travellers had protested, the man would have been embarrassed. But everybody kept quiet. These are the kind of people who advise the government to act responsibly when incidents of sexual violence take place. Instead of issuing sermons, had they carried out their duties as responsible citizens, such behaviour would not have been repeated. How damaging their silence is for themselves can be evaluated through a few statistics.

In 2016-17, 669 cases of stalking, 41 cases of voyeurism and 2,155 cases of rape were registered in Delhi. The rate of serious crime in 2016-17 saw an astounding jump of 160.4% from 2015-16. This is almost three times the average national increase of 55.2%.

So, it wasn’t surprising when the London-based Thomson Reuters Foundation said in a survey last year that the national capital was the fourth most unsafe place in the world when it came to safety of women in public transport, after Bogota, Mexico City and Lima.

It isn’t just women’s safety: In case you meet with an accident in Delhi, most passers-by will be more interested in taking a video than helping you.

One of the victims I referred to earlier was Ankit Saxena. After his throat was slit, his mother put her dupatta on the wound to stop the flow of blood even as she kept begging for help. The bystanders kept taking videos, but nobody came forward to help him. I want to ask those giving a communal colour to his murder: Why don’t they protest against those who were Ankit’s neighbours and belong to the same section of society from where Ankit comes?

A shocking analysis by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences says that 85% of people in the national capital don’t come forward to help those injured in road accidents. As a result, 52% of accident victims die owing to the lack of timely medical assistance.We have managed to build hospitals equipped with the best facilities but forgotten the ancient tradition of humanity and helping others.

If you so desire, you can once again shrug your shoulders and blame the government. But this isn’t the time to blame others, but to introspect.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.

His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.

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