Over a year ago, Avinash Bali rushed Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes to hospital after they were repeatedly stabbed in Andheri W. “Only a waiter from a nearby hotel came to help. Others stood by and watched.” The two men eventually died of their injuries.
Fast-forward a year, and not much has changed. The Delhi gang rape victim’s friend told Zee News on Friday that he and his friend lay injured and naked on the road for 30 minutes. People looked at them and moved on. “Some stopped to discuss what could have happened to us,” said the friend.
These incidents have stirred a debate: Why are we so reluctant to help strangers in need? On the legal side, little protection is offered. Though a PIL filed by an NGO in October 2012 sought the enactment of a Good Samaritan Law, which would protect the identity of those who rush accident victims to hospital, it was denied by the Centre because of the adverse effect it would have on investigations.
Supreme Court guidelines that offer protection, as well as a directive by the Centre issued in 2004, have not improved matters much.
PS Pasricha, the former director general of the police, Maharashtra, agrees that the criminal-legal procedure makes people reluctant to offer help. “They are worried that they might be harassed by the police, and later during the legal proceedings,” he said.
The law has, however, ensured that it is our duty to help others, despite the lack of protection afterwards. Former senior police officer turned lawyer and activist, YP Singh, points out, "Under Section 39 of the Criminal Procedure Code, it is the public's legal duty to inform the police station, or police control room, if they see any mishap or illegal activity."
Last month, the Centre urged the Supreme Court to allow good samaritans to file an affidavit, instead of turning up as witnesses, for which the verdict is awaited. This requirement of acting as a witness is a factor, points out Bali. "People fear they will be required to show up to police stations and courts several times. They only realise the importance of helping others when something like this happens to them or a family member."
As if not receiving assistance isn't bad enough, it is compounded by the fact that policemen often refuse to file a complaint saying the case falls in another jurisdiction. An assistant commissioner of police, J Hargude, said though jurisdiction is not a major issue, sometimes police don't want to do the work of another jurisdiction. "But in an emergency situation, they must help and provide all medical aid," he added. "The police can always help first, and then transfer it to the right station," points out lawyer-activist YP Singh.
Pasricha points out that way back in 1994, he had issued a circular that in the case of an accident, if the person who helped rush the victim to the hospital wanted to hide his identity, the police would not disclose it or call him to the police station. “As per Article 21 in the Constitution, saving of life is our primary responsibility," Pasricha said. "Our entire society needs to be sensitised.”