We The Dishonourable: Keenan-Reuben Murder – OpEd


Shock and shame have greeted the news about an incident which took place in the Amboli area of Mumbai on October 20, 2011, in which two honourable young men of Mumbai—Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes— were surrounded and brutally killed by a group of hooligans and their supporters when Keenan and Reuben protested against their misbehaviour towards their girl friends and tried to defend themselves from attacks by the enraged hooligans.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Vidyut, a keen Tweeter activist of Mumbai, for her painstaking research into the incident from open source information and for posting the details in her blog titled “Aamjanata” at “Facts of the Murder of Keenan and Reuben http://aamjanata.com/facts-of-the-murder-of-keenan-and-reuben/

Barkha Dutt, the Group Editor and President of the Board of Editors of the NDTV, telecast a special discussion on the incident under her “The Buck Stops Here” programme on November 8, 2011. She had invited the families and girl friends of the brave men who were brutally killed, a cross-section of opinion-makers and members of the public for the discussion which was recorded in Mumbai on the night of November 7.

The stamp of high quality of Barkha’s programmes was there in this debate too. She needs to be complimented for taking the initiative in producing her unimaginably and unbearably poignant show. At the same time, I would be failing in my duty if I did not record my surprise over Barkha’s omission to invite Vidyut to be a member of the panel. Nobody had shown greater indignation than Vidyut over the murders and nobody has done a more painstaking research into the incident than Vidyut. She should have been the first choice for the panel.

The shocking incident highlights how dishonourable many of us are in our attitude to women and behaviour towards them. It has been reported that the people who misbehaved towards the girl friends of Keenan and Reuben come from the under-privileged and uneducated sections of our society, but we find instances of such shocking behaviour in all layers of our society—privileged or under-privileged, educated or uneducated, sophisticated or unsophisticated.

In our society, the word behaviour has two meanings. It has one meaning when it comes to behaviour towards men and another in respect of behaviour towards women. Large sections of our society tend to presume that in our behaviour towards women certain extra liberties—in words or action— are understandable and even permissible. Words and actions which we may look down upon when employed against men, we treat as natural and rationalise them when employed against women.

It is this tendency to rationalise misbehaviour towards women and our reluctance to come down heavily on those misbehaving towards women that is responsible not only for the increasing number of incidents of misbehaviour towards them, but also for the shocking insensitivity and callousness of the police in dealing with such incidents.

I believe in what I often describe as an honour code in relation to women whom I take out. I consider myself morally responsible for their physical protection and honour. I am in a high state of tension till they reach home and inform me over phone that they have reached home safely. It is evident that Reuben and Keenan had a similar honour code. They considered themselves morally responsible for the protection and honour of their girl friends. They lost their lives in an act of extraordinary bravery after they tried to protect them from attempted misbehaviour by the hooligans.

They reacted according to their sense of honour. We should applaud them for their bravery and sense of honour and refrain from analysing whether their actions were wise or advisable. We should also salute the fortitude and sense of honour and pride of their families and girl friends for expressing their pride over the way Keenan and Reuben reacted. We need more such families, more such relatives and more such women.

The most shocking aspect of the incident was the utterly shameful and shocking and inhuman inaction of a group of about 40 bystanders, who watched the two boys being surrounded and murdered by the hooligans without the least attempt to go to their rescue. They watched as if they were watching a street play. I can understand — but will not excuse— if there were only one or two bystanders and they were afraid of intervening. There were about 40 of them. There was no excuse for their inaction. There were so many things they could have done. They could have raised an alarm and collected more people. They could have intervened physically. But they did nothing. They just watched— not in horror, not with shock, but just with a sense of disinterested curiosity. They probably saw it as a quarrel between young men over women and as none of their business. Even the use of a knife by one of the hooligans for repeatedly stabbing did not make them intervene.

Even more shocking than the passive attitude of the bystanders was the attitude of some of the people in a nearby restaurant as narrated by one of the girl friends to Barkha. According to her, after the hooligans had run away, when she pleaded to the people in the restaurant to help her in taking care of the injured and dying, none of them came forward to help her. Can one imagine anything more inhuman and callous?

This inaction of the bystanders and others shows to what extent inhuman traits have seeped into our society. The only way of dealing with it is through education and creation of awareness of our duty as members of the society and citizens of this country. Under the law, watching a person being killed without going to his or her rescue is itself a crime. The police should prosecute not only the perpetrators, but also those bystanders who can be identified.

The incident also speaks very poorly of the state of our police. It shows the extent of the lack of fear of the police and the law in many sections of our society. The inability or reluctance of the Police to enforce the law effectively is responsible for the growing number of such incidents. I am myself an ex-police officer and I feel ashamed of myself for the kind of ineffective, shameless and prideless police that we have created. I was surprised by the attitude of a retired police officer in Barkha’s panel. I didn’t discern even the slightest trace of embarrassment, shame and indignation in his interventions during the debate.

It is important for our senior police officers to sit up and act to reverse the inexorable process of decay of our police force. How can the police blame the citizenry alone for such shocking incidents when the police itself has become a paragon of inaction?

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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