20 October 2011 might seem like a distant date for anyone else but for the families of Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes, it has been the day since when they have been waiting for justice to be served.
It has been 5 years since the two brave men lost their lives, standing up against sexual harassment of their friend, outside a crowded restaurant in Andheri with around 50 bystanders who merely watched as a gang of 4 men brutally stabbed Keenan and Reuben.
Jitendra Rana, Sunil Bodh, Satish Dulhaj and Dipak Tival were immediately put in police remand. If there was any room for doubt or insufficient evidence against them – as a rational human being – one would surely think that five eyewitnesses, including the two women that Keenan-Reuben were protecting, would have been enough to derive at a fair judicial decision. Apparently all this was only enough for the culprits to be put in police remand and nothing more.
It wasn’t until November of that year that the four culprits were arrested and moved to judicial custody. The custody was then (only) extended till December 2nd to establish the “seriousness” of the crime (because murder and sexual harassment had questionable seriousness for our system). Keenan’s father, Valerian Santos, said that since February 2012, the date for framing of the charges had been re-assigned more than 20 times, and each time it had been postponed.
After an adverse public outcry, the case moved to a “fast-track” court in March 2012, but ironically the prosecution took literally a year since the incident just to frame charges of murder, conspiracy and molestation.
The trial finally began in January 2013 but then it was transferred to a women’s court two years later because the court tries cases of crimes against women. Year after year, hearing after hearing, almost half a decade later, all 4 accused were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on 5th May 2016.
Keenan’s father said “I’m happy with life imprisonment to guilty. They should live every moment thinking about Keenan-Reuben.”
Basically, it took the country 5 years to punish 4 people for not only killing 2 brave individuals but also molesting 2 other women. If this doesn’t make us question the state’s concern for our safety and justice then there is probably nothing else that can. We might assume that maybe such a case was not important enough to be closed as swiftly as possible or that there was insufficient evidence to frame the charges and conclude the verdict. However did implications of this case change anything in these 5 years?
For a start, sexual harassment is now a non-bailable, non-compoundable and cognizable offence (thanks to the Zero Tolerance Campaign). Sadly, this was not before the Nirbhaya case in 2012.
As for the legal aspect of it, regardless of the amount of protests and campaigns that we initiate, it is ultimately the people with power that should get cognizant about the graveness of this issue because it surely can’t be rocket science to see that there is a threatening reason why women (or any individual) are so concerned about their safety and people reluctant to get involved in such cases or even reach out to help in public.
I would still like to believe that society has become less dismissive of sexual harassment. “Eve-teasing” is not a light word anymore; it is what it is – sexual harassment and so it should not be shrugged off as casual. As individuals, we can do at least this much to rise above the shackles that our society is in.
Cover Image – Source