JUSTICE FOR KEENAN AND REUBEN
The chilling murder of two young men in Mumbai has led to an intense campaign for justice and a fierce demand to reclaim the city for its residents
They watched from safe spots. They watched from behind shop shutters. But no one came forward to protest, confront or resist. A mob of goons knifed two young men—keenan Santos, 24, and Reuben Fernandes, 29—on the evening of October 20 along a crowded lane in Andheri, Mumbai. Their offence? Speaking up for three girls, their friends, who were being harassed and molested.
A fortnight on, public anger has boiled over. Maximum City is reeling under protest. The chilling display of gangster atrocity has led to an intense campaign for justice and a fierce demand to reclaim the city for its residents. With a record 31,256 Internet users building up a huge network of protest, there is new hope for a city that has long been under siege, from within and without.
On that fateful night, a band of seven friends had gathered at the swanky Amboli Kitchen and Bar. They watched the England vs India ODI series on a giant screen, cheered Team India with gusto and around 11 p.m. approached a paan shop to end the evening on a sweet note. It was here that a drunken man, Jitender Rana, a 25-year-old barber with two murder charges in his name, lurched against one of the girls in the group. Not just that. He also made lewd comments and gestures at other girls in the group.
After a bout of verbal sparring, Rana left threatening to return for revenge. He came back minutes later with four partners in crime and a clutch of knives, choppers, blades and sickles. No reasoning worked with the men determined to settle a score. They stabbed Santos and Fernandes, who struggled to protect the girls. Santos died a few hours later. Fernandes succumbed to injuries on November 1.
Shock has now given way to shame. Anger and anguish are gathering momentum on the Internet. “Call it eveteasing, call it street harassment or just talk about Slut Walk. I am adding my voice to this cry,” Mohnish Moorjani and Nandita Khan have
FOUR POLICEMEN BARGED INTO THE ICU AT 1 A.M. AND TRIED TO WAKE UP FERNANDES DESPITE KNOWING HE WAS CRITICAL.
posted on a Facebook page, ‘Keenan Santos’. Voices from across the country and continents have joined in the chorus. Hardik Mhatre, a sympathiser from Toronto, Canada, writes, “Ashamed of my city for something like this… (T)ake a vow for not letting any situation like this repeat again.”
Bloggers are urging people to fight sexual harassment and crime on Mumbai streets. A blog post on Hollaback says: “It’s important that we keep Keenan’s resilient spirit alive by continuing to take a stand against harassment. Keenan would tell one needs courage to fight. Let us listen to Keenan.” Santos’s friends are planning to stage a candlelit vigil and gathering supporters to join them. A message calling for the march reads: “This is something that I feel must be escalated to the level of the Jessica Lal case... for a speedy trial and judgment convicting those who have committed the crime so frivolously.”
“Why should somebody stab a friend, or anybody, because he stood up for his friends, for what is right,” asks Querida Fernandes, Santos’s friend. She raises the vital questions that haunts every citizen in the city now: “Do we all have to keep quiet every time somebody makes a comment on us girls? Do we not have the
right to walk on the road at 10.30 in the night or stop outside a restaurant to chat with friends or even go out for a coffee? Do we all have to now ask our friends and family to just shut up every time someone says something to us because maybe, just maybe, two minutes later they may return to stab us for no fault of ours?” She appeals, “Please help us put an end to this.”
The police have now arrested four people. But that hardly consoles the family of the deceased. Fernandes’s brother, Benjamin, recounts the police’s “insensitivity”. “Four of them barged into the Intensive Care Unit at 1 a.m. and tried to wake up Reuben despite knowing he was critically injured, drifting in and out of consciousness,” he says.
Eyewitness accounts of the valiant struggle the Mumbai boys had put up that night are now doing the rounds. Some say that the boys were surrounded from all sides but fought bravely till the bitter end. “Santos battled on even after his gut spilled out while Fernandes fought till he managed to get his friend to a secure place,” reports another. Their steely resolve, it is being said, scared the goons into beating a retreat.
But a crucial question remains unanswered: why didn’t a single bystander come forward that night to lend a hand even after the ruffians had left?