What the Deaths of Ruben and Keenan Say About Our City

November 3, 2011 10:56 am by

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.

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Comments (13)

  1. miles |

    To the duo who stood up for their women u have inspired me and to all those who watched the murders and denied their presence or occurence of the same hope there is a special place in hell for u. Motherf***ers

  2. KartZ |

    This is the apathy that is us Bombayites … U see an unarmed pickpocket and you become all brave and thrash him to the edge of hell.. but here when u see weapons, you cant collectively do anything? Did anyone even call the cops…u dont need balls to do that .. u just need a phone. Shame is on us.. Bombay spirit ki maa ki aankh!!

  3. Josephine |

    Well wriiten!!!
    Kudos to you!!!

  4. Snigger |

    This is such a fantastic article. Please MumbaiBoss, more of this and less of the brain-numbing Bollywood trash. There are already too many websites devoted to covering the vapidity of one of the world’s least evolved film industries. There is no need for you to run your fabulous site to groud by telling us what a spoilt daddy’s little girl thinks and former co-star who happens to be a boorish, sleazy mama’s boy.

  5. Arti |

    I don’t know if Mumbai is the safest city for women or not, but Sexual Harassment was very rampant when I was in college 11 years ago and still seems to be going by my experience today when a man in the train kept pushing himslef against me. The train was not even crowded.

  6. AK |

    It’s great that everyone is jumping on the Keenan and Ruben bandwagon, seeing how it’s an online trend and everything, helping drive traffic and tweets. But while we’re making great speeches on paper about safety, sexual harassment and busting our balls over Mumbai’s reputation going the Delhi way…. why isn’t anyone questioning what the law is doing about bringing the down the men who did this to the boys?

    If Keenan and Ruben are “Bravehearts” as you referred to them, there aren’t many waiting in line for the title, because no one wants their guts being spilled out on the street, while their murderers get off scott free.

  7. Shahid |

    I’ve been in a similar situation but unlike Rueben, I’m fortunately alive today (No Thanks to bystanders) People are petrified by the sight of a weapon and a mob making a big noise. their concern for their own safety is their first choice. Each one of the bystander is a lone individual in such a case, they don’t believe they are a part of a bigger crowd themselves. At such times you need a Rueben in the crowd too, to mobilize those hopeless onlookers.

  8. Arjun |

    Minty – the girls, if you must know, were screaming for bystanders to help them.

  9. Eby |

    Divided we stand. Its high time people remember the pledge from school times. ‘all Indians are brothers and sisters’ And teach the under-priveledged few who know nothing about it. Stand up for your brothers and sisters.

    Its easy for a mob to strike down 2 unarmed people. But 10 brothers and sisters together??

  10. You are right. It is shameful and tragic. And, the truth is, given another chance, most of us would continue to respond with inaction.

    Like you said, a part of us all died that day.

  11. PF |

    I don’t think it’s right to say that it is apathy that stops people from helping others. In some cases, it could also be fear. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it’s acceptable to just stand by while others are being attacked — it most definitely isn’t — but it would take an exceptionally brave person to step in the way of a gang of men wielding weapons.

  12. Minty |

    What were those girls doing whom these boys died protecting?

  13. Christina |

    Thank you for saying it like it is. It’s sexual harassment/assault and not eve teasing folks.