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India gang rape: Why was everyone so slow to help?

India has no ‘Good Samaritan Law’ to give legal protection to people who step in, and Indians tend to avoid getting tangled with police.

By Rebecca ByerlyCorrespondent / January 7, 2013

Indian police officers stand outside the district court where five men accused in a gang rape were brought to appear in New Delhi, India, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. The men, who were set to appear in court Monday, are accused of the Dec. 16 gang rape on a woman, who later died of her injuries, that has caused outrage across India, sparking protests and demands for tough new rape laws.

Manish Swarup/AP

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New Delhi

One of the many disturbing factors in the recent gang rape and torture of a young woman on a Delhi bus, that prompted widespread protests about the treatment of women, was that for almost 30 minutes no one stopped to help her and her friend as they lay badly beaten on the side of the road.   

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“Several auto-rickshaws, bikes, and cars slowed down but no one stopped to assist us,” said the friend who was beaten Dec. 16, alongside the woman who later died in a Singapore hospital. 

There are a couple reasons for the response, or lack thereof, say analysts. India has no "Good Samaritan Law" to give legal protection to people who step up to help, and Indians often shy away from police forces that are known for incompetence and harassment.

In a country that has no legal protection to people who give assistance to those who are injured, and a nascent emergency service system, it’s not unusual for people to ignore injured people on the road.

“Any citizen who brings an injured person to the hospital can be detained until the police arrive,” says Piyush Tewari, who created the “Save Life Foundation,” a Delhi-based nongovernmental organization that tries to help people overcome reluctance to get involved and help victims of roadside accidents. “Police often harshly interrogate citizens who do assist injured people. They can also force them to be witnesses in court, a process that can take years.”

A police patroller made the first call for assistance after the couple had been on the highway for more than 25 minutes. But by that time the young woman had lost a significant amount of blood.

Distrust of police

The head of Delhi’s Police Unit for Women, Suman Nalwa, blames the reticence to help the girl and her friend that night on the lack of brotherhood between the people and police. She says police need to be friendlier toward citizens so that people know they can go to them and not be harassed, even if they are engaging in an act of goodwill.

Ms. Nalwa also says in large disconnected cities like Delhi, where people often commute from outside the city to work, it’s not uncommon for stranded travelers to languish on the road for hours.  “There is simply not a culture of getting involved.”

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