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 Senior Account Manager at MINT PR. 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.