NEW DELHI // India embarked on a bout of soul-searching yesterday over a shocking video showing passersby ignoring the pleas of a desperate father after his wife and daughter were killed in a road accident.
The CCTV footage surfaced late on Monday showing the man cradling his injured son next to his overturned motorbike and calling for help from other motorists as his wife and eight-month-old daughter lay bloodied on the road.
Police say he was ignored for 40 minutes inside a newly built tunnel in the city of Jaipur with a stream of cars, buses and motorbikes driving past.
"That kind of failure is very, very common on the roads," said Mridul Bhasin who works for the Muskaan road safety group.
"This is happening day in, day out every minute in our country. People die and we turn blind eye and go where we need to go," Mr Bhasin said.
The Mail Today tabloid headlined "Callous India drives past mishap victims," while The Hindu newspaper said the incident had "brought to life civilian apathy".
"It's the duty of all people to take such victims to hospital because lives could be saved," Jaipur traffic police chief Lata Manoj said.
A worker in a toll booth noticed the stricken family and called the police, who arrived on the scene and transferred the mother and daughter to the SMS hospital in Jaipur.
Dr DS Meena, in charge of the SMS emergency unit, said that they had died before arriving.
"The situation might have been better if they were provided medical help in time," he said.
The man and his son, who suffered light injuries, were discharged.
The accident also spotlighted the routine flouting of traffic regulations - the motorbike was carrying four people without helmets and was travelling in the tunnel despite a ban on two-wheelers.
The family were knocked off the bike after a collision with a truck, which drove off without stopping, police say.
Using the CCTV footage which showed the registration plates, police are now hunting for the truck driver.
Prabhu Dayal, an uncle of the dead woman, blamed the deaths on public indifference.
"Her husband cried for help for 40 minutes but no one stopped. It's shameful that apathy took two lives," he said.
The situation has echoes of similar incidents in China. In 2011, a toddler in eastern Zhejiang province was struck by two vehicles and lay dying on the street while at least 18 people walked past.
Public apathy in India was brought into sharp focus in December when a 23-year-old gang-rape victim was also ignored by bystanders after she had been stripped and dumped on a New Delhi street.
Many pointed out that fear of the police was a major deterrent because anyone who stops to help is often dragged into the legal case, or even implicated in the crime.
"Following the gang rape we did an online survey about why people don't help victims of violence and accidents," said Apurva Mahendra of the Delhi-based SaveLIFE Foundation, which encourages bystanders to offer assistance.
"We found legal issues such as being required to appear in court as witnesses are major deterrents for good Samaritans to come forward to help such victims," said Ms Mahendra, who heads the privately run agency's emergency response programme.
A total of 131,834 people died in road accidents in India in 2011, which works out at 15 an hour, according to the government's National Crime Records Bureau.