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Empathy and social conscientiousness are some of the basic tenets of humanity which are unfortunately losing their presence in the contemporary world. There exists not only duty as a citizen but also a moral obligation as a human being to embrace these tenets of humanity. Therefore, in the case of an accident, ongoing crime, emergency or a cry for help in public, capable people in the vicinity of the incident should offer help as human beings if not as responsible citizens of the country.

In India a completely different picture visible. In a lot of incidents, people do not step forward to offer help and instead become silent onlookers complicit to the agony of a fellow citizen. This results in preventable loss of life becoming a certain loss of life.

If we were to analyse and understand this cause of this public apathy it would become evident that there exists a certain underlying psychological phenomenon which contributes to the inaction of the community. This psychological phenomenon is what the psychologists call the ‘Bystander Effect’.

What is the Bystander effect?

‘The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency.’ (Psychology Today, n.d.). This effect can be boiled down to apathy arising out of the absences of empathy and social conscientiousness. It essentially means that larger the group the lesser is the possibility of individuals stepping forward to help. This hesitation reduces the chances of survival or chances containing the incident.

There are two main explanations for this (Cherry, 2018); The first explanation is that the presence of others creates a ‘diffusion of responsibility’. It means that if a person assumes that someone else has undertaken the responsibility of acting. This assumption leads to the inaction of the entire group of people present at the scene of the incident. The second explanation is that the individuals feel the need to behave in a manner which is correct and socially acceptable. They don’t act in the fear that their action may not be socially acceptable and stay silent to avoid any ramifications.

In the Indian context, there are other factors which also contribute to the Bystander effect like legal red-tapism, obsession with social media and social mindsets of the people. To illustrate, in the event of a road accident people do not stop to help because they want to avoid the hassle of legal ramifications like communicating with the people and possibly being called as a witness in the court of Law. This is also one of the major reasons why most Indians completely ignore such incidents.

Another reason is that people want to upload pictures and videos of the incident instead of helping the person or calling the authorities. This stems from the lackadaisical attitude of the Indian people which consequently affects society. Every scene where the effect grips people, arguments, criticisms and the blame game is played. This results in the ignorance of the incident altogether and the development of a lackadaisical attitude.

The effect is so deeply ingrained in the minds of the Indian people that they cannot take cognizance of their inaction. That is, they may or may not now that their inaction is wrong. This can be attributed to a lack of empathy and sensitivity which the bystander effect further aggravates and fosters.

Also, from a legal perspective the people cannot be held legally accountable for their inaction for the very reason that a guilty frame of mind or simply put a guilty intention (Called Mens Rea in criminal law) cannot be discerned in their inaction. Therefore, the Bystander Effect cannot have legal ramifications. Thus, it can only warrant social and moral repercussions.

For instance, in a horrific incident, a 65-year-old man from Nepal bled to death after he fell off a train. (Times of India, 2018). The most shocking thing about this incident was that the man could have been saved if it were not for the people who were idly standing and recording the entire incident. This condemnable act of public apathy is just one of the many incidents which show us the gravity of the consequences of the bystander effect. Such incidents are evidence of how the bystander effect has gripped the Indian society.

The Consequences of the Bystander Effect

The consequences of the Bystander Effect are not to be taken lightly. The effect normalises public apathy. Normalising public apathy erodes the cohesion of society and consequently the state.

Public Apathy is especially dangerous in a diversified country like India. Historically India has been a congregation of many cultures. After independence, there was a strong sense of fraternity prevailing amongst the Indian masses. This fraternity cohesively held together the fragmented Indian diversity throughout the decades until now

For instance, a woman was raped in broad daylight in Vizag, India, and onlookers were completely apathetic about it (Lim, 2017). People nonchalantly walked by the criminal act without batting an eye. Those who did take cognizance of the situation video graphed the entire act and then submitted it to the police. This level of public apathy is detrimental to the moral fabric of society.

This apathetic attitude of the public would eventually lead to an insensitive and fragmented society. Whenever any such untoward incident occurs in such a society people would not even take a second to look at what is going on. The feeling of the fraternity will wither away and there will be no feeling of togetherness in the society as everyone will consider each other as strangers and not as fellow citizens of a country. This effect has plagued Indian society by instilling and fostering an apathetic attitude amongst Indians.

Therefore, the gravity of the consequences of the Bystander Effect cannot be undermined as they pose a threat to the cohesive element of the fabric of Indian society and thus has become detrimental to the Indian society.

Tackling the Bystander Effect

The damaging nature of the Bystander effect warrants quick and effective measures. There can be two methods to go about it. The first is education which is idealistic to some extent. If people are not only taught about sensitivity, empathy and fraternity at a young age but also how to use these values to be a good samaritan then the effect can be tackled at a grassroots level.

The second way is a much more viable method and has two components to it. It entails countering the effect through sensitization programs which would aim to enlighten the public about the Bystander effect and its consequences. Knowing the effect and its consequences would reduce the chances of inaction as the people would know about the reason for their inaction. For instance, if a person A who is at the scene of an incident knows about the incident and why and how they would have a hand in the loss caused, they would be more likely to help.

The second component which is more prominent than the earlier methods is the incentivisation of good samaritans. As a norm, good are usually rewarded for their selfless actions and goodwill. All they lack is protective measures in the form of legislation. In the case of Save Life Foundation v. Union of India and Anr. The Supreme Court of India laid down directions for the protection of Good Samaritans (Live Law News Network, 2016). This was a step forward in encouraging Good Samaritans who can tackle the Bystander effect.

Therefore, after analysing the problem and its consequences it can be concluded that the Bystander effect is a psychological phenomenon which has become a social plague in India and needs to be eradicated through a systematic process of education and sensitization.


Cherry, K. (2018, December 27). Understanding the Bystander Effect. Retrieved from Very Well Mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/the-bystander-effect-2795899

Lim, K. (2017, October 27). Woman in India raped in broad daylight but onlookers do nothing to stop it. Retrieved from Asia One: https://www.asiaone.com/asia/woman-india-raped-broad-daylight-onlookers-do-nothing-stop-it

Psychology Today. (n.d.). Bystander Effect. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/bystander-effect

Times of India. (2018, July 28). Public apathy: Senior citizen falls off train, bleeds to death. Retrieved from Justdial: https://www.justdial.com/JdSocial/news/1532764642119047

Image Credits- unair

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Written By Kaustubh Dighe

I am a first year law student who loves to read philosophy and likes to write articles.

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