Incentivise good behaviourPeople clicking photos of a dying man rather than coming to his help is deeply disturbing.
Social media and legacy media have been abuzz with disturbing visuals of a youth lying on the road, in a pool of blood, after meeting with an accident in Dolakha district. A dozen individuals surround him, some with mobile phones in their hands, looking on or clicking his photos even as he awaits help. As per media reports, neither the public nor the police showed any hurry to rescue Bishwo Raj Shrestha and take him to hospital on time. When Shrestha did get to a hospital, it was too late; he had succumbed to his injuries.
As much as the injuries, the 23-year-old probably died of negligence, for he could have been saved with timely medical attention. In what is increasingly becoming symptomatic of the social media age, Shrestha’s struggle for life and his ultimate death became a spectacle to behold, record and disseminate. The public seems to have been incapacitated by the adrenaline rush presented by content that was certain to go viral on social media. What else explains the inhumane treatment of someone begging for his life as the public chose just to become ramitey, or casual onlookers, rather than Good Samaritan?
There was a similarly disturbing scene near the Pokhara International Airport earlier this year when a Yeti Airlines passenger plane crashed with 72 people on board. The crowd was so busy taking photos and videos on their mobile phones that first responders had difficulty conducting the rescue work. The most obvious explanation for such a spectacle of public insensitivity has to do with the increasingly anti-social human behaviour in the age of social media. Moreover, the crowd seems to take interest in incidents in which they or their close ones are not actively involved in what is a fursad spectacle, an act of witnessing done out of idleness rather than a will to act and make a difference.
The public apathy that is fast undercutting the normative narrative about Nepalis being a helpful and social lot also has to do with how the security system functions in the country. Nepal’s police administration is infamous for its ruthlessness while quizzing the first responders in accident cases. The general public is concerned that an act of selfless help can ultimately be a means for their harassment. A public that does not want to face the interrogation of an unfriendly police system is often guided by the principle of not touching the victim until the police arrive. And in doing so, they lose the crucial moments when the victim’s life can be saved with quick action. Unless the police’s attitude transforms from harassing to incentivising Good Samaritans, we cannot expect people to take personal risks and come out to help.
To deter potential Good Samaritans from looking the other way, the state should come up with a Civic Responsibility Act which incentivises spontaneous public support in cases such as road accidents while also inculcating in the public a sense of moral obligation to help fellow citizens in distress. India, for instance, has a set of guidelines to that effect, whereby those calling the police to inform them of an accident do not need to reveal their identity and can choose whether they want to be witnesses. Even if they choose to, they can be questioned at a time and place of their convenience and are not liable for civil or criminal liability. A similar witness protection programme can go a long way in inculcating civic behaviour among the public and possibly saving many lives.