A police inspector and his driver, victims of an accident, lay in the middle of a road while passersby stopped, watched, took videos and selfies and pretended to help by offering water, asking how it happened, when all they were expected to do was to shift them to the hospital.Instances like this that should prick our conscience are common on our roads. Ambulances and police vehicles are expected to shift victims of road accidents but most of the time there would have been a passerby or bystander who could have stepped in earlier and rushed the victims to hospital and saved lives. It is we, the citizens, who actually fail our nation.Public apathy towards accident victims is difficult to justify. Citizens don’t react to their suffering for the fear of getting into legal complications. They generally don’t want to fulfil their humanitarian duty due to the fear of being called by police or the court during trial. Crowds at the accident spot often make things worse by indulging in vandalism to dispense instant justice instead of helping the victims.
Police `harassment’ is the most common justification given for such apathy . No doubt there are cases of socalled police harassment where they make the Good Samaritan a witness and subject him to court proceedings which can be quite torturous.But a billion-plus can’t take shelter under a few hundred of such `harassment’ cases.
In 1989, the Supreme Court gave a landmark judg ment in the Parmananda Katara vs Union of India case, which said if the person shifting the accident victim to hospital or police station does not want to give a statement and be a witness in the case, he shall not be compelled to do so. The underlying intention behind the judgment was that saving a victim’s life should get primacy over prosecuting the person responsible for the accident. However, even after 27 years, the reality remains contrary to the intentions of this landmark judgment.
Nothing could be more sensible considering the low rate of conviction in traffic accident cases. All such cases are bailable and in most, punishment doesn’t extend beyond a meagre fine. Moreover, unwilling witnesses are of no value for successful prosecution.Most of the witnesses depose under compulsion and, not out of humanitarian consideration. Therefore, it defies logic that we should focus on prosecuting the accused instead of saving the victim.
The Supreme Court once again reiterated this point by approving guidelines about providing protection from harassment and liabilities to Good Samaritans. But mere legislation cannot improve the situation unless we sensitize our citizens as well as police that we ourselves or our near and dear ones could be lying in the middle of the road, unattended, in place of the victims some day! “It could happen to me also,“ is the only way to understand the seriousness of the issue. Otherwise we could easily be called a nation of bystanders, ever looking for excuses for not doing the right thing!
(The views expressed are personal)