The Bystander Effect

“Hello, you are so absorbed watching TV, what’s that?” Lulu, my wise parrot, asked.
“You are a very keen observer Lulu,” I said, “I am watching National Geographic. A buffalo and a calf are encircled by Hyena and they are attacking the calf, what a horrible footage! I am unable to take off my eyes and unable to watch it too. Soon the Hyenas, who are hunting in a pack, will devour the calf.”
“Oh yes,” said Lulu, “But are you seeing what I am doing too?”
“What’s that Lulu?” Lulu always had a ‘bird’s eye view’ of everything. I have always wondered whether the birds would be using a phrase like a ‘man’s eye view.’
“Don’t you see that the rest of the herd is watching helplessly from a distance? And does that remind you of anything?”
“Isn’t this called The Bystander Effect?” Lulu asked, much to my surprise.
“I always knew you as an intelligent bird, but now I suspect that you are a well trained psychologist too.”
“Don’t laugh it off! You can take a dispassionate view, an unconcerned one because you are seeing animals in the National Geographic Film. Let me explain this ‘Bystander Effect’ to you. Substitute the animals with men in Nat Geo film and you will understand what I mean.” Lulu retorted.
“Well, hold on! You are painting an extreme picture. No civilized person worth his salt will hold himself back. Haven’t we seen how people help those involved in Highway accidents?” I could not tolerate the avian attack on human values.
Lulu laughed and tapped on my head with his beak a few times before settling on my shoulder. “You have not only no touch with reality, but you are also not reading newspapers. A young girl gets raped in USA, twenty people watch and no one reports to police! Isn’t it similar? The gang rape went on for two hours!!”
“That’s really sad, and horrible. Anything can happen in USA, they do so many crazy things there. We in India have a special status for women.”
“That is a very unfair comment. There is nothing peculiar to USA when it comes to Bystander effect. It happens everywhere in the world. What happened when a girl got raped in a running train in Mumbai? There were four bystanders, they watched but did not intervene!” Lulu said. “And what happened when a lady was raped in a running train near Nasik and somebody was thrown out? There were bystanders there and it wasn’t happening in USA! Must I remind you of what happened when Kauravas were stripping Draupadi in Mahabharat? Her husbands sat there helplessly watching the attack on her modesty!”
“Ok, Ok, I take your point. It happens everywhere!”
“Not just that, it happens almost all the time around us” Lulu said. “Do you remember that a man who had lost his mental balance was killed at Dadar Railways Station in Mumbai some years ago by a mob? Do you remember how a woman was paraded naked and people silently watched it? The Gujarati couple going for morning walk was brutally attacked by two goons riding a motorbike, they injured couple was lying on pedestrian walk and no passerby helped them.”
“Why doesn’t anybody help the victims, Lulu?” I asked.
“Because nobody is called by name and asked to help, according to one sociologist. People are galvanized into action when they are specifically asked to step in. At that juncture it is difficult not to intervene and stay aloof.” Lulu continued, “Malcolm Gladwell says in his book, The Tipping Point – “When people are in a group, responsibility for acting is diffused. They assume that someone else will make the call, or they assume that because no one else is acting, the apparent problem- isn’t really a problem”.
Lulu was unstoppable; he continued, “Aren’t you seeing like thousands others, your country being ruined by corrupt officials, goons in the garb of political leaders who foster fissiparous tendencies instead of uniting people. You are also watching and not acting, because nobody has called out your name and said, “Hey Vivek, You feel strongly about this issue, come join me, let us do something about it.”
“Difficult to digest what you are saying Lulu. I think I would rather have a drink to calm my nerves.” I said.