Mumbai is known for its accepting nature. Liberal and open, the city has become a by word for the “metro” culture in our country. A place where women in shorts walk down the same road as a woman in a traditional saree without a look being passed; as some would call it female friendly. Full of youthful energy teeming with the desire to achieve more is one way to describe the hometown of Bollywood.
All that was shaken on 20th October, 2011 when two men were attacked and brutally murdered in front of a crowded street full of people; their crime was to have stood up to a few drunks for harassing a couple of friends who happened to be with them at the time.
Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes had stepped out with their friends for dinner and a walk. Little did they know that standing up to a couple of drunks would cost them their life. Having had dinner, at about 10:30 PM that night, the seven of them had stepped out of a restaurant when some drunks standing outside passed lewd comments on some of the women in the group. The two friends stood up to them and made them leave with a few slaps for their trouble. With egos hurt, some of them came back with more people armed with various weapons like bats, knives and hockey sticks to beat the two friends. Keenan died within the hour of the attack from multiple stab wounds to his body. Reuben would die a week later, unaware that his friend with whom he’d walk into a knife fight with had passed away.
According to eyewitness accounts, approximately 20 men had come back to beat Keenan and Reuben. In the latest verdict, a Mumbai court has held 4 men guilty for harassment and murder among other things and awarded them life in prison until death. The rest have been charged with rioting and released on bail.
Mr. Valerian Santos, father of Reuben, welcomed the judgement. Accepting that the convicts may still approach higher courts for appeal, he is happy with the verdict pronounced and the message sent to other “termites of society”.
In the welcome decision, it brings at least some respite to the family of the two deceased who have been following the case ceaselessly for the last 5 years. Friends and family rejoiced for the verdict, with many well-wishers also showing solidarity on social media.
Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes had tried to fight back when the accused and their friends came back to pick a fight, some say they fought on maybe not realising they had been stabbed. All this, while also protecting their friends, pushing them inside a restaurant to keep them safe. While there were reportedly 50 onlookers, none had come forward to help.
In a case which became a rallying call for the fight against sexual harassment, it is sad to see the family of the victims having had to go through the heart ache for 5 years for verdict, which can still be further delayed with appeals and petitions to higher courts. While the two youngsters may have passed away, their names continue to be remembered for the selfless way they put themselves between the accused and their friends, which went on to being recognised by posthumous bravery awards for both friends.
At the Santos’ home in Mumbai, the parents of Reuben find some solace in the verdict while they watch the news channels play the update on a loop, hardly watched except by their pet Labrador Buddy waiting for his master to come back even after all these years. Brought home a few months before the incident by Reuben, he is just one of the few reminders his parents have of a son lost to the ugly face of sexual abuse and harassment which has gripped this country.
Ranveer Raj Bhatnagar