A man raped a woman in public in broad daylight while bystanders did nothing but film it – where the hell is your empathy, India?

Published: November 1, 2017
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A woman is seen being raped on a busy walkway in broad daylight in the city of Vishakhapatnam, India. PHOTO: SCREENSHOT

With the growing number of harassment cases, especially ones that involve men as the perpetrators, it has become relatively easier to identify them in online and offline spaces alike. Considering that nearly everyone, old and young, has access to smartphones with cameras, the probability of evidence being widely shared is now very high.

A video surfaced recently in which a woman is seen being raped on a busy walkway in broad daylight in the city of Vishakhapatnam, India. While this atrocious crime was taking place, an autorickshaw driver managed to record a video from his phone, making evident not only the rape, but also the bystanders – people walking by, choosing to ignore the crime. Not one person was seen intervening.

I can’t describe how shameful and livid it felt to read about this incident. As if rape itself isn’t devastating enough, the fact that bystanders were seen unaffected by it happening publicly in broad daylight, is something I cannot digest.

As humans, we have six basic emotions – happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust. However, not one of these emotions was seen being expressed in the video. What kind of a turning point have we reached in society that civilians are too afraid to intervene and help someone in dire need?

There are arguments presented by the witnesses later, suggesting that they were discouraged from intervening because the rapist had signalled threats in their direction. A major issue I have with this explanation is, why are people not sympathetic or empathic enough in such situations to know which side to take? I hate to use the “imagine if this was happening to your mother, sister or wife” logic – because women need to be seen as people before being identified with respect to their relationship with men – but in this case, I will make an exception to prove a point.

The general public is becoming extremely desensitised and heartless with each passing day. Are we so accustomed to such behaviour that we have just accepted that there is no way to stop it? Do we need governments to initiate movements to train people on how to react appropriately and what steps to take in such instances?

People are often afraid of getting involved because there are questions like, “what is at stake for me if I choose to take a stand?” They often also fear getting stuck in legal battles, and there is no doubt that getting involved as a third party may put their lives in danger as well. I agree that it is not easy to step in, even if you know it’s the right thing to do. Some reasons why bystanders don’t intervene and remain on the side-lines may include:

“I don’t want to cause a scene.”

“I’m sure someone else will step in.”

“It’s not my business.”

“I don’t know what to do or what to say.”

Though these are legitimate questions for the public to have, it is crucial to realise that our actions can have a huge impact. In many situations like the one being discussed here, bystanders have the opportunity to prevent crimes like sexual assault from happening in the first place.

Having said that, in the Vishakhapatnam case, an important point to note is that the lone rapist was intoxicated, which means it would’ve made it difficult for him to put up a fight. Yet, there was still no action taken.

The purpose here is neither to specifically highlight rape nor is it to say that it shouldn’t be given enough importance because trust me, I am very vocal when it comes to addressing sexual assault. The purpose is also not to highlight the frequency with which rapes are taking place in India or in any other country around the globe; because it is not fair to point fingers considering rape culture exists everywhere. The purpose, rather, is to shed light upon bystander apathy, not only towards crimes like rape but also towards other types of crime and violence, which in fact is a global problem.

While I’m addressing this issue, I also want to clarify that I am in no way trying to categorise all men as rapists and dismiss experiences of men all together, because men are also victims. What we need to focus on is stopping those who rape. There is no easy answer to how to accomplish this, but we all have a role to play in changing the ways of the perpetrators, and not examining what the victims could have done differently. Victim-blaming is never the answer.

In this particular case, the victim was said to be resting on the sidewalk under a tree near a busy railway station. She arrived in Vishakhapatnam from outside the city, after having fought with her husband. Furthermore, some reports claimed she was “mentally ill”, and was so deprived of food and water that she was not physically strong enough to call out for help. The attacker, known to be in his early 20s, is a drug addict and an alcoholic who already has a criminal record for drug peddling and robbery. Many other cases stem from similar stories; acts done perhaps in the name of maintaining the power of certain patriarchal hierarchies in society.

Nonetheless, no matter what reasons lay behind this atrocity, serious attention needs to be paid here in order to address the problem. Whether or not someone is able to change the outcome of the situation, by stepping in one can surely help change the way people think about their roles in preventing sexual violence. Sexual assault against any gender is not acceptable, constitutes as a crime, and action needs to be taken against it all over the world. People need to start realising the power they hold when it comes to saving a victim of rape, by actually acting against the perpetrator and calling the police immediately, instead of standing around to film the crime as it takes place.

Purniya Awan

Purniya Awan

The writer is a Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies graduate from York University. She has been nominated as a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum, is a Founding Member of a Pakistani legal blog, Courting The Law, and is also the Co-Founder of The Gender Stories (TGS). She identifies as a feminist, and is currently working in Pakistan as a Publicist and as the Head of Social Media Marketing. She tweets @purniyaA (twitter.com/PurniyaA?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ravian

    This is very much unfortunate. Al jazeera did a documentary where they showed that rape videos are sold in the markets in India. Police was also informed. When they did a follow up documentary, they found that even after their documentary, people continued to indulge in this business. Police did not do anything.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    Shining!!Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    It has a lot to do with caste and poverty. Most of the bystanders may not have wanted to help out because of them not being Brahmins, for example.

    Second assumption is that anyone who has the mental audacity to rape a woman in broad daylight in the middle of the street of a busy city is probably a gangster or belongs to the police, and people are afraid of getting themselves involved.

    But, gangsters move around in pack of three to four people, and are hardly ever found roaming alone. This man does not look to have any accomplices around him.

    My own theory is that the caste system plays a big role here. Since Muslims in India are already considered second grade citizens (except in posh Mumbai, Delhi areas), even the Muslims in the crowd would have been scared to help.Recommend

  • gameplanner

    The women was a begger living on streets (with all sort of addiction) the convict is street rowdy who is involved in many offences and was drunk with weapon..and it was not on main road but a inner road in a deserted with more heavy vehicular traffic..It is not excuse for not saving the women,but the onlooker has alerted police and recorded the act (as proof) while the police arrived.(All with in matter of few mins)..If people have not tried to stop it would not be in news (It is actually the police has informed the press/video and not that the video ‘surfaced ‘ online )Recommend

  • raj

    Parhyga India, Barhyga India …. — i guess Maryga IndiaRecommend

  • ab

    In the real Islamic state (not Israeli backed isis fake islam state ) with sharia law a person cannot even think of this act.Recommend

  • safacca

    And they are asking for Permanent seat in UNSC. Big ShameRecommend

  • saad

    Hang the culprit in public choping of his genitals and let him die slowly. Make its video and show it on media to make an example for other perpetrators out there.Recommend

  • Satyajit Panda

    This is very sad news……We are fighting to eradicate this virus spreading like Disease…..Recommend

  • justin

    When your Mulla ordered killing of Qandeel Baluch, how meny were present there can you count? Even rapes are ordered in Jirga as punishment in Pakistan are you not aware of it?Recommend

  • Sane

    Don’t treat this as politics, but India has grown to a society of immorality. Religious and political leaders must take an account of increasing crimes specially rape. Rape incidents in India are rampant without any remorse or shame in general among the public. This incident must be taken as last straw on camel back.Recommend

  • Kasturi K

    I’m dumbfounded. What happened to humanity?Recommend

  • duke dean

    India, Israel and the USA are ultimate evil countriesRecommend

  • MIke O’Reilly

    I notice a widespread disinclination to get involved in “other people’s business” in the subcontinent. When I lived there, there was a murder right in the alley in front of the house I was staying at. The shot man lay dying right in front of our door. As an American, I was all like action, action, action – call the police, call the ambulance, administer first aid! But my hosts were all the opposite – retreat to the back of the house, lock the doors and windows, we know nothing, don’t answer the phone. We weren’t home. The whole mohallah adopted that response, every neighbor, and the people who passed by stepped over the dead body. It’s a broader issue than just rape, it’s a whole culture of collusion.Recommend

  • Pure ind

    Ur Muslim theory is absolutely absurd. These are not religious crimes in the name of blasphemy.. These were pure criminal cases that have to be viewed & punished the same way.Recommend

  • abhi

    so you think everybody wear the cast tag? or you can idenitfy the cast by just looking?Recommend

  • abhi

    really?Recommend

  • Sane

    Don’t divert the discussion by bringing blasphemy etc. etc. Be on the issue and Indians must work for morality of people in general.Recommend

  • Sane

    Discussion is about a crime, a heinous one and morality of people. Don’t see at a larger canvas, see the evil within individuals who were bystanders and looking at the crime happening. So much so, some of them were making video. Nothing like this happens in Israel and USA.Recommend

  • Sane

    Rape in jirga if ordered is absolutely wrong and no one endorses. If this happens in this part, does give a reason that a woman to be raped in public in broad day light in front of dozens of people in India.Recommend

  • Sane

    Yes, really.Recommend

  • Umair Arshad

    Shameful for all humanity ..Recommend

  • duke dean

    …Here is some information National Sexual Assault Hotline. Call 800.656.HOPE to find out how Often Does Sexual Assault Occur in the United States?

    Infographic showing the number of people victimized in one year. Number broken down by
    inmates (80,600),
    children (61,000),
    general public (284,000), and military (18,900).

    Every 98 seconds another American is sexually assaulted.

    The facts of sexual perversion, murder and kidney theft in Israel is startling

    As for india what would one expect from 900 million hindu fundamentalists who have lately been murdering people for eating beef and who openly proclaim that any woman out after dark wants to be raped….in slumdog land India a woman is raped every 13 seconds……I maintain my point….Israel, india and America are the ultimate evil nationsRecommend

  • abhi

    Why don’t you try to have such real islamic state in at least Pakistan to start with?Recommend

  • Sane

    Be on the topic of this blog post. Accept and be ashamed to correct yourself.Recommend

  • Pure ind

    Wat abt bacha baazi?? Wat about the jigra rapes wat abt the honour killings tht happen in Pakistan?? & I speak about morality??Recommend

  • Sane

    You may be right. But, does it happen in USA or Israel that a woman is raped on a road pavement in daylight in front of dozens of bystanders and no one moves to rescue the woman. Instead many of them were making rape video (probably to sell). What happens in India as you wrote is correct.Recommend

  • abhi

    I responded to your comment. Tell me why you don’t have such islamis state despite having nation full of muslims?Recommend

  • fze

    because of Weak human souls like anywhere in the world. Mere Lip service and no intention to act upon the spirit of religion, like all faulty human beings.Recommend