What would you have done?
A 17-year old is shot in Delhi. People stand by and watch. A policeman allegedly spends potentially life-saving time in recording his statement. The boy dies on the way to hospital.
A woman in Meerut fights molesters who also beat up her husband. People stand by and click photos instead of helping her.
A woman and her daughter lie bleeding on a road in Jaipur after an accident. Her husband begs for help. 17 people drive past. Nobody stops to help.
Ever so often, such reports make headlines, giving fodder to the outrage factory that TV news has become. Are we a nation of by standers, we ask. We hashtag our horror and abhor their apathy. But when the circus is over, we've just vented and changed naught.
What would I have done, I ask myself. Assessed the situation and tried to help if I thought I wouldn't come to much harm? Not intervened if I had one of my kids with me? Called the police? Asked others to step in? I really don't know. I honestly hope I never have to decide.
I pity the people who have to stand by and watch. Not intervening must be difficult. Not intervening is against our character. We have aunti jis in malls walking up to complete strangers and commenting on which pair of shoes suits them better. We have uncle jis on roads helping strangers park cars with precise "left-kaato, chalo chalo" instructions. We have didis on trains cajoling children to tell their names, offering them toffees, asking them to recite poems. We love engaging with others. The encounters may not always be pleasant or fruitful, but we're not known to not do anything.
What happens then, when a girl is being molested or a boy is being beaten up or an accident victim needs help? Why do we not help? Most people say they don't want to get caught in the legal tangle that invariably follows. Fair. But aren't these mostly instinctive decisions? Does conflict suppress our humane side and trigger base survival instincts? Is it social conditioning?
I have no answers, I'm afraid. But I do know that when on the streets, I'm on my own. I go back to my job of "creating awareness" and denouncing the unfeeling masses, smug in my insulation from such "incidents". I discuss the dying sense of community with the audience, I ask experts what's the way out the black hole of apathy. I announce a break and Google 'apathy' to kill time. Just then, a six year old thrusts his wisdom upon me - "You can present the material, but you can't make me care", says Calvin. True that.
More about Palki S Upadhyay
Palki S Upadhyay has been working with CNN-IBN since June 2005. An MA in Journalism and Mass Communication from Rajasthan University, she has worked part-time with Hindustan Times and Doordarshan. For regular CNN-IBN watchers, Palki is synonymous with the Breakfast With India show. This English Literature graduate, with a keen interest in global affairs, also anchors the weekend international news show World 360, along with Suhasini Haidar. She has also done special shows on Obama's presidential campaign, the US elections and has reported on Iraqi refugees and Tibetans in India. Palki went to school in Simla and Pilani, she loves reading and enjoys cooking and painting.