Friday, February 11, 2011

The Bystander Effect in Kerala

Barely a week before, Kerala witnessed the horrific death of Soumya ( 23) . She died as a result of injuries sustained when she jumped off or was pushed off the running train  by  her alleged tormentor ,a hardened criminal.

It is now amply clear from eyewitness accounts, that many people travelling in the next compartment had indeed heard Soumya’s pleas for help. But no one dared volunteer to raise an alarm or pull the chain to stop the train. A move , which could perhaps have saved Soumya’s life.The question, which has been going the rounds since then has been the insensitiveness of our society as a whole towards such incidents. Has  Kerala society become morally bankrupt ? While there can never be any excuse for people not intervening at the right time   in such cases, we need to understand the basic phenomenon or psyche that goes behind such inertia among people at crime scenes.

The bystander effect or Genovese Syndrome refers to the inability of individuals to offer any kind of help to the concerned victim. They become, as the name goes, mere bystanders.  In fact, the more the number of people available at the crime scene, the lesser the probability of help. Sickening, if you think of it.   This primarily occurs due to a ‘Diffusion of Responsibility’  among the people present. Each of them think that the other person could as well react.The fact that they are part of a group, makes them think that individual responsibility is diffused/shared. For example, in a firing squad, the members of the squad could be randomly issued a weapon having  a blank cartridge, thus allowing each of the members to believe that it must not have been them that fired the fatal shot.

When you are part of a larger group, the guilt is shared. The same individuals, had they been alone, or part of a very smaller group could have reacted in an entirely different and responsible manner.Awareness brings about the impetus needed for change in the attitude and behavior of individuals. Let us realize what is happening within ourselves. Let us not be a bystander and look the other way, the next time we come across something even remotely similar to what happened to Soumya.


  1. What you have mentioned about bystander syndrome was a new piece of information to me.

    At the same time I am intrigued, whether it was truly the bystander syndrome effect or something else that made those fellow passengers behave so- so indifferently and insensitively. And why not? who prompts us to do otherwise. From where can we learn it? When father beats or abuses mother to death what else can our children do? pretend that they have not heard it? Also On the scenes of social as well as political abuses what else can we do?

    The loss is only for her family.

    Midhun your post is well written