What Happens When a 'Good Samaritan' Tries to Help a Man Lying on the Roadside

(Image courtesy SaveLIFE Foundation; for representational purposes only)


Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of India passed a landmark judgment insulating those who help injured persons on the road, from harassment or intimidation at the hands of police, hospitals or courts. The court order makes the "Good Samaritan" guidelines as good as law. Non-compliance will be treated as contempt of Supreme Court. The judgment is a result of the hard work of Ashoka Fellow Piyush Tewari, the founder and CEO of the SaveLIFE Foundation which focuses on improving road safety and emergency medical care across India. Presently the order applies to road crash victims only. Tewari said an application is pending in the Supreme Court to extend it to all types of victims of injury, illness or crime.

This week in Bangalore, Ashoka India's Varun Rangarajan shared his experience of seeking help for a man lying on the roadside.

Yesterday (14th March), when walking down Old Airport Road near Marathahalli (Bangalore) at around 5:45 p.m., I saw a man unconscious on the roadside next to Brand Factory. Since he was covered with a lot of flies and his head was twisted badly, tongue was out and salivating, I checked with some people nearby on what this was about. A drunk man standing there said that they had complained to the ambulance 20 minutes back with no response. A boy said that the man on the road had been lying down there for more than 24 hours. It had been 24 hours and people passing by, office goers, students, shoppers and many more, had done nothing after noticing this awful sight. (The next time we point a finger at politicians, we should look inward).

I called the ambulance and they told me that a police complaint had to be filed as I was a stranger to the man. I replied saying there was no time to make a complaint as I don’t know what the condition of the person is and it could be serious. They said that unless someone accompanied the person to the hospital they would not lift him up. I didn’t want to argue with them on the phone, so I agreed to going.

Within 15 minutes an ambulance came with just lights flashing but without the siren on (in the whole episode, there was an amazing lack of sense of urgency, partly because they knew that this was ‘just’ a case of a drunk man lying on the road) from the H.A.L. side, cut across the small pebbled median, and stopped near us. Two men stepped out and wore gloves. I could see that they were alarmed and disgusted at the sight of the flies. They asked me if a police complaint had been made and I said not yet. They started calling the cops and told me that till it is made, they cannot take the man.

I protested saying there is a Supreme Court law saying victims have to be helped immediately and that no one needs to be held accountable. The guy shot back immediately saying the law is for accident victims and for people that fall down from buildings and so on, for people needing emergency medical care, and not for people who are drunk and lying on the roads. He proceeded to tell me my liability if I had to insist on moving the person to the ambulance before the cops came – I would have to go to the hospital with the ambulance, sign up as the person’s attender, and stay for as long as the person was getting treated. I agreed.

So we sat in the ambulance and went towards H.A.L. On the way the ambulance driver again explained the rules to me and said he was turning into the police station first. He ranted how if I just walked down many streets in Bangalore, I’d find many people like this lying on the sides of the roads. I quickly refuted saying he won't find people covered with flies and tongue lolling out for 24 hours. And that if he ever did get a complaint like THAT, he should immediately get him medical attention, as that to me sounded like a serious situation.

But the driver also said something else that glaringly pointed out the care for life we have in India. He said someone had complained about that same victim in the morning and the cops had called him up and said that they will investigate a bit and get back to him soon so he could pick up the man. But when they didn’t get back to him as promised, he followed up a couple of times and the cops had replied saying they didn’t have time to investigate as they had to go for many other duties, including VIP duties. I leave it here.

At the station the inspector looked at me and asked ‘What is your problem?’ in a not so loving manner.

I said that there was no problem but I just wanted to ensure that the guy got some medical help. He asked if I would go be with the person in the hospital. I said whatever is the best way to get help for him and I didn’t see how me being in the hospital with him for a few days is the best way a government can help one of its people.

Then the cops started talking to the ambulance driver in Kannada. What I got were the words ‘Auto Raja,’ ‘Hennur,’ ‘Home of hope.’

Apparently there is a medical facility in Hennur for the homeless and destitute called Home of Hope and that is where the ambulance would go to and one of the constables would accompany them. And that is where I was told that I could leave. The ambulance driver told me that I could come if I am not convinced about the place, but that I could always look it up at the internet as it was a famous place. I later researched. (https://beyondsundays.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/auto-raja-a-true-beyond-sunday-ministry/)

There were a lot of good and bad takeaways for me from this incident. The fact that the only person who had called for help was a drunken guy on the roads, who couldn’t even give a proper address when I asked him where he lived, showed that these beings are at times much more sensitive than the so-called ‘educated class professionals.’ But yes, I hope this experience would help anyone who wants to provide succour to similar victims.