‘Bystander effect typifies Indian psyche’
* Earlier this week, a 20-yearold girl’s molestation outside a bar in Guwahati for a half an hour in full public view shook the country.
* In 2008, two NRI women were molested by a mob when they came out of J W Marriott in Juhu on New Year’s Eve.
* In 2002, a drunk man raped a mentally challenged girl in the second class compartment of a local train in the presence of five other commuters.
These are not the only cases where bystanders have done little to raise an alarm or intervened in any way. Whether it is sheer apathy that leads to inaction or fear of getting entangled in long-drawn police and court battles or even fear for one’s own life, the result remains that harassment of victims continues in full public view.
Chetan Datar’s Marathi drama Ek Madhavbaug is generally regarded as one of the best Indian plays to address homosexuality. But since it hasn’t been performed in years, younger theatregoers have only heard of it. The city now has a chance to watch Ek Madhavbaug as The Humsafar Trust, an NGO that supports the LGBT community, has revived the play with a Hindi version that will premier in Mumbai on Sunday and have a longer run in August.
Humsafar has been conducting readings of Ek Madhavbaug as part of its advocacy programme since 2010. Actor Mona Ambegaonkar has travelled across the country doing “performance readings” of the play in schools, colleges, corporate companies and among social groups. “It’s a very honest play,” says Ambegaonkar. “This play makes you look at people around you and say, ‘ Why is their sexual orientation interesting to me at all? Why is your bedroom part of my conversation? It shouldn’t be.’ “
Shout loudly and scare the perpetrators of crime
Teach kids from a young age to take action against smallest acts of injustice
Psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty calls it a complete collapse of the community consciousness. The “bystander effect” that paralyzes onlookers from taking action, he says, 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.
He likens the “chronic disaster syndrome” that India is going through to psychopathic liberation where people wreak havoc in a place stricken by disaster. “Just as thefts are seen in places ravaged by earthquakes or wars, there is a collapse of the cultural superego, which is otherwise an inhibitor in these situations. The entire discourse of ‘sanskriti’ is largely ritualistic. In a globalised world, the child and the woman become the target to vent frustration,” he added.
However, instances like the deaths of Keenan Santos (24) and Reuben Fernandez (29), who were stabbed on October 20 as they tried to protect their friends from an eve-teaser in Amboli, turned into a rallying point against sexual harassment. They intervened, but were killed. So what does one do in situations like this?
“There are different levels of intervention. People need to speak up,” said Reuben’s brother Benjamin, who is now working on a campaign to address the escalating number of sexual harassment cases, inaction on the part of bystanders and the prevalence and influence of a patriarchal society. He, along with playwright Alyque Padamsee, through the NGO ‘Izzat ki Fauj’ will aim to sensitize an “apathetic” society. The campaign, which is still to be rolled out, will be taken to schools and colleges.
Padamsee said the best way is to use wits rather than guts. “Onlookers can start screaming in unison very loudly. That can scare the perpetrators of crime. They should immediately call the police instead of taking the law into their own hands,” he added.