Wanted, a bit of humanity
Everyday life, a blur ... people don't care about others anymore.
"I HAVE talked to her for hours and find she is normal." So said the psychiatrist roped in by the police of Nashik. He was referring to a woman who worked as a clerk at a police chowky and had not reported for work for days. However, he wasn't speaking to her because of this dereliction of duty; he was asked to talk to her because of something far more macabre.
When some of her colleagues went to her house to check on her, they found her in perfect health. What was not in perfect health was her house: it stank to high heaven (or, more appropriately, low hell).
Investigations led them to a cupboard where the stench seemed to be the strongest. The cupboard contained two human skeletons. The skeletons were of her mother and her daughter.
You may have read about this or seen the coverage on television. No doubt we will hear more about this story in the days to come because it is so very bizarre. But shouldn't we be asking some questions first? Like, if the police psychiatrist thinks the woman is normal, that puts a new spin on the definition of normalcy. Do normal people keep the bodies of their relatives locked up in their house? Having done that, do they go about their life as if nothing was amiss? If I were a top police official in Nashik, I would be asking for a second opinion from a psychiatrist who might see a severely disturbed, or schizophrenic, woman whose outward behaviour conforms to known patterns of normalcy.
The second question this story raises is far more disturbing because of what it says about our society.
The woman's erratic behaviour had not gone unnoticed by her neighbours. After all, how could it? Surely the smell of two rotting corpses would have alerted even the most self-centred person? And what if she tried to cover that up by a feeding frenzy where she scattered fish all over her flat for all the neighbourhood cats? Even worse, for months the woman went out after locking up her young daughter in the apartment.
Neighbours now talk about how the girl used to shout to be let out and cry for help the whole day while her mother went to work, ironically, to her police office. Couldn't they have intervened? Couldn't they have reported this cruelty to the police? The fact that they didn't says a number of things about the country we live in. First, that people don't care about other people anymore. If they had even a little bit, they could have saved the life of the girl who was quite possibly starved to death. Minding your own business is generally commendable, but not when it becomes utter callousness.
It's also clear that we do not like the police too much: if people considered the police force to be helpful and friendly, neighbours would have gone to them for assistance. But we look at our police stations only as a place of last resort: we go there only when we have no other option.
And this sad story confirms for us, yet again, how sorry our education system is: was there no one at her school who asked "Where's the little girl?" Did no teacher, or the principal, think of calling the mother and ask her to explain why she had stopped her daughter from attending classes? This would certainly have happened in one of our better schools. Those are the kind where only the children of the privileged can attend. But shouldn't even an ordinary school, even a municipal one, ask the most basic questions? Almost a year ago there was a gruesome incident on a Mumbai train which also raised questions about the direction society is heading. It was the last train on the suburban service to distant Borivili. Since it was late, the normally crowded compartment was empty.
Almost empty, for there were five people in it.
The cries of a girl soon alerted them to the presence of someone else in the same coach. What they saw horrified them: a teenage girl travelling alone was being raped by a young man. The five saw the rape from its very beginning to the end, but did nothing.
We could, if we are feeling charitable, find excuses for them. The rapist was physically strong and seemed possessed: a fast-moving Mumbai suburban train has no doors so you could end up on the tracks in the event of a physical struggle. But the Nashik incident did not need even the hint of heroism. All it needed was a bit, a very tiny bit, of humanity.
Anil Dharker is a journalist, media critic and writer.
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