To Keenan and Reuben: The Boys Who Did Not Look Away

Last month we published an article detailing the heroic actions of Mumbai young men, Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez, who were both savagely murdered when they stood up to street Harassment. Just over a week ago Hollaback! Mumbai payed their tributes to these brave souls and a story that was far too close to home:

BY RIYA KARTHA, BLOGGER AT QUAINT MURMUR, FREELANCE WRITER AND LECTURER AT WILSON COLLEGE

If there is anything we are taught from birth it is to avoid confrontation.  To look away. We are moulded as a society to ignore, to not take chances with, to leave well enough alone.

Two weeks ago, a casual dinner turned into a nightmare for a group of young Mumbaikars. As they stepped out after dinner, an altercation with a drunk man led to events which nobody could have foreseen. Reuben Fernandez and Keenan Santos died of stab wounds inflicted by one man with an army of thirteen. The latter died soon after the altercation, the former succumbed to his injuries last night.

Well-meaning folks say they could have avoided the altercation. By looking away. By ignoring it. By leaving well enough alone.

I didn’t know either one personally. What I do know is that I am grateful that they existed at all. I have lived in Mumbai for many years now and this is the city I call home. And yet today, in this city, two boys are dead because they took offense to a drunk man making sexual advances towards a girl in their group. Because they didn’t look away.

Too often I have fought my own battles with a niggling feeling that some man would come and get me back for standing up for myself. Too often I have been upset with male friends who ignored a threat, choosing to look away instead. So when people shrug sadly and remark that looking away was a better option, I feel my heart break.

Because there is a fundamental flaw with that logic. If there is anything that we should learn from the deaths of Reuben and Keenan it is that looking away is not the solution. It is that we have lost our voices, our dignity and indeed our conscience by repeatedly looking away each time we are faced with an assault on our individual and collective dignity. Nobody deserves to die for standing up for someone elses dignity. Nobody deserves to die like that. And that we have begun to believe that is the way things are is where the flaw lies.

Any woman who has walked the streets of this city will attest to feeling the humiliation. Because we face these killers every day. They walk among us, talk dirty to us, feel us up, brush against us, pinch us and grope us and every single time we report these, we are asked to keep our mouths shut for fear of swift and painful retribution.

And so by doing so, we have lost our collective voice. We keep our heads down and we shut our eyes and ears and we move on. Oblivious to other people, oblivious to all the injustice around us. And because two boys refused to do so, because they refused to listen to the naysayers, they are dead. What a horrible way to go! Fighting for a society that probably wouldn’t have done the same for them.

So no, I don’t think they should have looked away. I think we should have looked out for them. We should look out for them now. We should stop looking away before Reuben and Keenan seem like a distant memory.

Thank you, Keenan and Reuben. For not looking away.

You are both heroes in my book.

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