Madhu Purnima Kishwar
Profile of Madhu Purnima Kishwar

Madhu Purnima Kishwar is Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)—a social science research centre, based in Delhi. Director of the Indic Studies Project based at CSDS aimed at the study of diverse faith traditions and cultures in the Indic civilisation. She is the ...

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    Madhu Purnima Kishwar’s Blog
    “I have a horror of all isms, especially those that attach themselves to proper names”.
    -- M. K. Gandhi --
    Posted on:
    Next Time, Don’t Walk Away
    The best police force cannot be a substitute for caring and vigilant citizens
    First Published in : The Indian Express, January 16, 2013

    The testimony of the friend of the Delhi gangrape victim on Zee News held up a disturbing mirror to our society. The gross callousness, cowardice and voyeurism displayed by the bystanders, as well as the cars and autos that passed by the badly injured gangrape victim and her friend, proves the truth of the popular saying: “yatha raja, tatha praja (the quality of the rulers determines the quality of the subjects)”.

    However, in a democracy — even a flawed one like ours — citizens cannot disown their responsibility and wait for rulers to set things right. A democracy gives you some scope to turn this saying on its head: “yatha praja, tatha raja (the quality of the subjects determines the quality of the rulers)”.

    A common reason given by people coming to the rescue of victims of violence or road accidents is that the police not only harasses such do-gooders, but also tries to implicate them in the accident. As perverse as the police is in India, my experience tells me that the police know the difference between honest and crooked citizens. The real problem arises when the police are already on the scene but neither doing the needful nor letting citizens help the victim.

    My first encounter with the voyeuristic tamashbeen mentality of citizens was when I was eight or nine. I had gone to Connaught Place (C.P) in Delhi with an aunt who was just past her teens at the time. We were walking in the inner circle of CP when we saw a car moving at high speed hit a young man with such force that he was sent flying in the air before he crashed to the ground. People picked him up from the street to prevent him getting run over by other cars, but did not go beyond dumping the profusely bleeding and badly injured man in the verandah of CP’s inner circle. They just stood and watched as though it was a scene out of a movie. I suggested to my aunt that we take him to a hospital in a taxi but she pulled me away, saying it was not good to get involved in such situations. I was too young to have my say on that day.

    But the memory of that writhing body and citizen passivity left such a deep imprint that without any formal declaration, I made a vow to myself: I would never walk away when a fellow citizen needed my help. Since then, I have taken several accident victims to hospitals. As luck would have it, in each case the person’s life was saved due to timely medical help, even when the victims had suffered brain haemorrhage.

    Since I began doing it much before I came to own a car, it was always auto rickshaw drivers who agreed to carry the victim to hospital. Car owners did not help even once. All I had to do was to assure the auto driver that I would assume full responsibility for taking the injured person to hospital and that his name would not be brought in at all.

    Here is a somewhat melodramatic but true to life example of the deadly consequences of our indifference to fellow citizens. I was still a student in those days, and was travelling on a Delhi Transport Corporation bus when I saw two young men bleeding on the road after their two-wheeler was hit by a speeding bus. I got off the bus and rushed to the accident site. A big crowd had gathered around the injured men. A few motorists also stopped to have a peek. None of them agreed to help me take the two men to hospital. I waved at every car that passed by. None stopped. Finally an auto driver agreed on condition that his identity would be protected from the police. The doctors at the hospital told me that since both had suffered brain haemorrhage, further delay in medical help would have meant certain death. Imagine my surprise when two months later, the two young men, along with their respective fathers, came to our house to tell me that both of them had passed the accident spot and seen me trying to stop passing cars to carry the victims to hospital. They too had stopped momentarily, looked from a distance at the injured men, but decided to drive away, thinking, why invite trouble?

    The elite cannot build islands of prosperity and safety for themselves amidst a sea of lawlessness and uncaring citizens. This callousness doesn’t stop at unknown victims of violence or accidents. It also extends to immediate neighbors, close relatives. It saddens me no end when people from far and near places phone Manushi to say my daughter, sister or such-and-such woman in my neighborhood or extended family is suffering daily beatings and might end up dead. In most instances, families and neighbors expect distant organisations or the police to come to the woman’s rescue.

    A more effective way of combating domestic and other forms of violence is for each neighborhood to create its own helpline and rush to the rescue of the woman being battered. Once families know they are being watched by their neighbors, who will not hesitate to bring in the police if the abusive behaviour is not halted, they do invariably act with more restraint.

    Even the best police force cannot be a substitute for a caring and vigilant neighborhood. For example, when a young man in my old neighborhood was caught trying to molest a teenage girl, leading families in the neighborhood simply blackened his face and made him go around the block of houses in his underpants with folded hands saying, “I seek forgiveness for my misbehavior”. This happened 25 years ago, but the message went home good and proper. From then until I left the area, one never saw young or old men indulge in offensive behavior. I don’t think a police or court case would have achieved the same result. In fact, it would have traumatized the victim further and in all likelihood led to acquittal, or her withdrawing the case due to the soul-destroying legal process one is subjected to.

    However, such exemplary social control mechanisms can evolve only when we maintain active links with our neighbors and develop a culture of routine acts of sharing and caring. By living atomized, disconnected lives, we are endangering our own lives. Our families spend a great deal of energy in teaching us to be good sons, responsible daughters, caring sisters, mothers, wives, husbands and so on. Our schools and colleges hammer us to be good disciplined students. But neither family nor educational institutions train us to be responsible citizens, starting with our own neighborhood. Instead, we discourage our children from getting involved. If we all take charge of our neighborhoods, the rest will follow automatically.

    First published in The Indian Express (See link:

    It is a wonderful article, moved me immensely.
    Posted By : Anandrahi, On Date: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
    This post has helped me think things thourgh
    Posted By : Kris, On Date: Friday, June 14, 2013
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