Last month, two Bombay boys, Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes, were killed by a group of youths. It began when girls with Keenan and Reuben were sexually harassed by strangers outside a pub in Amboli. After Santos and Fernandes roughed up the abusers, the men got together a large group to exact revenge.
What seemed to me peculiar about the coverage of the sad incident was the focus on supposedly heartless bystanders. The friends of the slain boys harped on this on every interview they gave. A Mumbai Mirror article, headlined 'People watched quietly as our friends were dying', was typical of the general media response. The Times of India carried this quote from Reuben's brother Benjamin: "On the night of the attack, the street was crowded, but no one came forward to help us. People have become numb. They do not want to get involved . Perhaps they are afraid of the visits they will have to make to court and the police station; perhaps they don't care enough."
Barkha Dutt anchored a predictably obtuse discussion on NDTV, and wrote in the Hindustan Times, "Within minutes the assaulters had knives and swords out and soon the boys were lying collapsed in pools of blood, their insides ripped out as 40 bystanders stared on passively, ignoring all pleas for help. It would not be unfair to say that more than the mob it was urban apathy that killed Keenan and Reuben... the basics have broken down — the sense of community, kinship and humaneness appears to have evaporated. More brutal than the murder is the image of the onlookers who refused to help."
These statements all strike me as foolish, because only idiots would get involved in a fight involving a dozen people with knives and hockey sticks. A mob like that doesn't listen to reason. It is out to maim and kill, and will harm whoever stands in the way. Castigating urban apathy is warranted when someone's left to die at the streetside after an accident, but no such moral lesson should be drawn from the Amboli tragedy.
Why am I writing this weeks after the incident? It's because a news item in today's papers indicates what would probably have happened to anybody getting in the way of the thugs who murdered Keenan and Reuben. In this case, two teenagers fought over a girl. One of them brought in brawlers to beat up, maybe kill, his adversary. A young fruit seller named Sarfaraz Sheikh tried to stop the mob.
Sarfaraz (mugshot above) was stabbed to death. Two youths named Munish Patil and Mayur Patil, who had come out of a nearby cybercafe, also intervened, and were also stabbed and critically wounded. Maybe they had viewed a programme where panelists went on about how terrible public apathy was, and how citizens ought to intervene promptly in such matters.