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Rinku Patil And ByStander Apathy

In March 1990, a girl named Rinku Patil was set on fire in examination hall by her mad boyfriend and his friends. The incident happened in an exam hall full of students and teachers. The above mentioned crazy boyfriend and some of his friends barged in and drove everyone out with a knife. Then they doused Rinku Patil with gasoline and set her on fire.

In March 1964, a woman named Kitty Genovese was killed in New York in front of several neighbors. She was brutally stabbed. Several people watched, but no one came for her rescue.

What happened in these two incidents is similar to large extent. But the social repercussions of the incident are drastically different. In Rinku Patil case, people were mad. How can a girl die in the middle of the crowd and no one can come ahead and protect. People talked and talked and talked. As a Indian society, we were all judgmental. We termed the people present in the room cowards. We lamented lack of a hero who would rescue a damsel in distress.

In the New York incident, there was some outrage in USA as well. But sooner or later it was followed by a non-judgmental curiosity. Why would people behave that way? Could there be any reason other than character flaw? It became a research topic for social scientists and eventually lead to some very interesting insights into social mind like theory of bystander apathy and diffusion of responsibility.

It makes me wonder, why we in India did not stop and think? Why could we not suspend our judgement and take a dispassionate, third person look at the incident? Why didn’t we think “Well, I don’t know how I would have behaved in that situation.”

Why did we let this incident feed our guilt and frustration and drama rather than feed our curiosity and thirst for knowledge?

This is why the problems remain as they are. If we were to develop insights, if we were to drive research rather than judgement, we would be able to design machines and institutions around the weaknesses in human mind. We would indeed make some difference.

How many Rinku Patils must die before we stop blaming ourselves and everyone around and start thinking?

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