What the Deaths of Ruben and Keenan Say About Our City

November 3, 2011 10:56 am

A couple sit on Juhu beach. Photo: Dhruv Dhawan.

It’s difficult to count the number of things that are unspeakably wrong and shameful about the tragic killing of Ruben Fernandes and Keenan Santos.

Each one of them marks a sad milestone moment in Mumbai’s downward spiral, and gives reason to reflect on the evolution of what is arguably one of India’s most energetic cities.

For instance, the fact that it happened when the two young men, who were out for an evening with their women friends, confronted a group who were sexually harassing the young girls.

Sexual harassment in Mumbai? The city that, despite the occasional knock or two, ranks as the safest Indian city for women, where women’s access to public spaces unhindered by considerations of safety is the highest?

(And please, let’s not call it eve teasing, as if it’s a coy flirtation ritual among intimate friends. It’s sexual harassment, pure and simple.)

For instance, the fact that when pushed back by Santos and Fernandes, the hooligans returned with choppers and mowed down the two young men in full public glare.

In Delhi, even in the innocent 1980s, before a time when nobody killed Jessica Lall, it was common to see signboards outside restaurants that barred guests from bringing firearms into the premises. It gave rise to a “only-in-Delhi” meme; but even then, the notion that someone might whip out a pistol in the middle of dinner and settle a dispute by extracting blood price seemed more comical than serious.

But there’s nothing funny when hormonally driven brutish thugs in Mumbai whip out choppers to lift up their flaccid egos. It just makes Delhi seem streets ahead of Mumbai in one department that ought to shame any city.

For instance, the fact that even as the two young men were attacked in a fairly crowded part of Mumbai, no one intervened to stop.

Only the other day, I’d made the point that in situations such as this, when hooligans threaten innocent lives, even the feeblest human finds enormous strength to stand up for what’s right. I’d based that on my own experience of being in life-and-death situations and seeing the selfless response of oridinary folks who summoned up extraordinary courage.

It’s intensely sobering to be proved so horribly wrong so soon.

For instance, the fact that as Mumbai’s Bravehearts lay dying on the street, none of the bystanders offered any help.

There may be countless reasons to account for why people don’t step up in situations like this. Such as that “it’s too messy to get involved in police matters.” Or the Bystander Effect that says the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help—in the belief that “someone else will step up”.

As I noted recently, the apathy that is manifest when you see someone die and yet don’t intervene is fairly universal, and is not specific to cities or cultures.

Yet, every time it happens, one’s faith in humanity takes a knock—and to think that it happened in Mumbai, which always offers inspirational stories of selfless interventions in times of terrorist attacks and other tragedies, is doubly tragic.

Shed a silent tear for your fallen heroes, Mumbai. But also reflect on a part of us that died that day.

When our Bravehearts—who stood up to lawlessness—are mowed down in public, it’s a bit of us that dies.

When bystanders merely stand by watching young men die, and don’t step up to help, it’s our soul that has been crushed.

This story by Venky Vemby was originally published on Firstpost.com.