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Amboli murders: PROSECUTE the inhuman bystanders

Last updated on: November 9, 2011 12:37 IST

Murders highlight how dishonourable many of us are

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The inaction of the bystanders and others -- who watched as armed hooligans stabbed Keenan and Reuben -- shows to what extent inhuman traits have seeped into our society, laments B Raman

Shock and shame have greeted the news about an incident which took place in Amboli, Mumbai, on October 20, in which two honourable young men -- Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez -- were brutally killed by a group of hooligans and their supporters after the duo protested the rowdies' misbehaviour towards their female friends and tried to defend themselves from attacks by the enraged hooligans.

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 female friends of Keenan and Reuben come from 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.


Image: Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez

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Reuben and Keenan had an honour code

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It is this tendency to rationalise misbehaviour towards women and our reluctance to come down heavily on those misbehaving with them 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 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 female friends. They lost their lives in an act of extraordinary bravery after trying to protect them from misbehaviour by the hooligans. They reacted according to their sense of honour.


Image: Keenan Santos with his girlfriend Priyanka Fernandez

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There was no excuse for the inaction of the bystanders

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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 pride of their families and female 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, shocking and inhuman inaction of a group of nearly 40 bystanders, who watched the two boys being surrounded and murdered by the hooligans without any 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 was only one or two bystanders and they were afraid of intervening. But there were nearly 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, something that was none of their business. Even the use of a knife by one of the hooligans for repeatedly stabbing the duo did not make them intervene.


Image: Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez

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This shows the extent of the lack of fear of the police

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Even more shocking than the passive attitude of the bystanders was the attitude of some of the people in a nearby restaurant. According to one of the female friends of the duo, 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 a former police officer and I feel ashamed of myself for the kind of ineffective, shameless and pride-less police that we have created.

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?


Image: The site where Keenan and Reuben were attacked
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant/Rediff.com
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