For a good 30 minutes the 23-year-old rape victim and her friend lay naked on a busy road in Delhi's freezing cold. Battered and bleeding, they cried for help from passersby. Several autos, cars and bikes slowed down to take a close look at them, but none stopped to help.
To decode this shocking indifference in the national capital (the rest of the country doesn’t fare any better) one has to strike at the root, which is fear. It’s not that people do not want to help. Acts of kindness happen every day, reinforcing our faith in humanity. But coming to someone’s rescue — an accident victim or a woman violated — is fraught with risks. The good samaritan will be summoned to the police station several times, sometimes at odd hours, forced to become an eye-witness, and seldom offered any protection, even if s/he is ready to testify in court against a dreaded criminal who probably has the means to hurt the witness. No one wants to be in that position. And that’s a potent excuse to look the other way.
At the end of July last year, the Centre in response to a Supreme Court query said it was considering setting up a committee comprising experts from the ministries of law and justice, home affairs, HRD, health and family welfare, road transport and highways to discuss guidelines to protect good samaritans from police harassment.
It stated that it wouldn't be possible to keep the identities of those who help people in distress under wraps as it would impact investigations.
Yet, the various forms of the Good Samaritan Law in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe have contributed substantially to inspire people to help accident victims and other strangers in need.
In India, if the citizens' responses are judged against the backdrop of such institutional callousness, it may seem fair that most people refuse to stick their neck out for those in dire straits. So, perhaps while we are at it, besides making changes in rape law and pushing for police reform, maybe we could also enact India's own Good Samaritan Law.