By Pihu Saraff
Class 9 Student, Bangalore
Foreword by Venkat
Reading Pihu’s powerful article made me wonder if watching too much of spectator sports has made people spectators everywhere in life. Her message on bystander intervention is well articulated and it unveils several other issues as well in this conundrum. There is much more to it than morality, negligence or insensitivity. In general, in our lives, action comes quicker, when the risk (to oneself) of not taking it, is clear in understanding. The risks from Corona virus infection set a clear reminder on the hand-washing ritual which is an age-old practice in well educated families. Taking the example cited by Pihu, of a murder in a public place, highlights the need for some “social drills” to better understand an armed and violent mind, the related threat perception and social skills to manage the situation. Beyond that comes the much needed ‘safety perception’ from the local systems of governance. Very few or none would want to involve when the perception is of losing safety, in being included into the legal purview by virtue of the involvement and uncertainty in the redressal process.
It is refreshing to read these from a young student expressed so coherently both in meaning and in purpose! May this article be the spark for Pihu to make a difference in the world.
My name is Pihu and I study in grade 9. I love writing regarding things I feel passionately about. I also enjoy reading and watching movies. I would like to pursue journalism when I’m older as I possess a strong desire to make a difference in the world.
Suppose you are in a public place and you witness an argument between two people in which one of them is terrorizing the other, behaving in a way that could be potentially dangerous. You observe the severity of the dispute but abstain from intervening, believing that it is not your business. The next thing you know, a great tragedy has occurred. You end up being the bystander, all because you valued something superficial and trivial over an issue of basic human morality for which it was your duty to stand up against as a bystander who was not going to lose anything by doing so. The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others dissuades an individual from interfering in emergency circumstances. The more the number of bystanders, the less probable it is for any one of them to provide help to a person who needs it. People are more likely to intervene in a crisis when there are few or no witnesses present.
Bystanders typically avoid intervention because of the perceived amount of theoretical resources they would be spending on the same. Questions such as the mental and physical cost of the intervention, the risk factors involved, the energy that needs to be spent and whether or not a real difference can be made via their actions arise. I strongly believe that bystanders too are to blame when they don’t speak up upon witnessing unfair or unjust situations, and even ones that can be damaging.
These bystanders often get off scot-free, with none of the blame for the harm caused by the other person’s actions falling on them. Clearly, bystanders who don’t take action are flawed, especially when it comes to circumstances like racism, homophobia, sexism, bullying and other forms of harmful hate speech. It’s similar to how voluntarily supporting and associating with someone who possesses hateful values and acts on the same would make one just as bad as the person they are excusing. Take the example of racism. if someone witnesses their friend display racist behaviour, and willingly continues to support and associate with them, they too are racist. When you let something as vile as racism stay under the radar, you are contributing to a vicious cycle that causes racist systems and policies to be created. By liking them, defending them, talking to them and validating them, you are contributing to the much bigger issue. By not exposing them you enable the oppression of people of colour. By supporting a racist person, you are condoning their actions. If you cut off ties or try to educate racist people in your life, you are attempting to make a difference.
Many say that some people are hesitant to speak up about such behaviour because they are non-confrontational and nervous of the consequences that may follow. I would argue that if speaking up about injustice is not inherently dangerous for someone and they still don’t, they are simply apologists for disgusting behaviour. Such apologists care more about being “likeable” and “politically correct” (although what they are doing is exactly the opposite) than the actual issue at hand. They end up protecting the fragile egos of the people whose actions are detrimental. Bystanders who use such reasoning as an excuse for not intervening claim to want to be moral but end up being and doing the contrary. Rather than speak up about important issues that affect a huge amount of people, they would prefer to be agreeable and “not make a fuss.”
A real-life example of a tragedy, where bystanders have not spoken up is a case that hits eerily close to home for many Indians, as it happened right on the streets of the “cosmopolitan” city – New Delhi. In April of 2021, An employee of the Safdarjung hospital was stabbed twenty-six times by her husband on a crowded street. What seems so significant about this case you may ask? Well, despite there being many onlookers, not one intervened. They all stood absent-mindedly and watched the woman being murdered, some even proceeding to record the horrendous crime. What took place is unmistakably horrific, but what makes it worse is the lack of action taken.
We need to understand the consequences that come with one’s actions; or in the case of the bystander effect, lack thereof. A schoolyard bully possesses a power imbalance over his victim, making the victim unable to change their situation. With the intervention of a bystander, the necessary measures can be taken to put a stop to injustices alike.
To quote Martin Luther King, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting it is really cooperating with it.”
By Pihu Saraff
Class 9 Student, Bangalore