The internet is abuzz with a lot of activity concerning two individuals: Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez. There are online petitions, Facebook pages, newspaper campaigns demanding justice for Keenan and Reuben, and for zero-tolerance of crimes against women. The tragic incident, which unfortunately resulted in the deaths of Keenan and Rueben, has put this issue of sexual harassment and street-violence in the limelight. The chief minister, the law minister and the likes have been approached. A vast, internet-surfing, 20-something (and older) crowd has demanded justice. And in all likelihood, justice would be served.
I shall not deal with their quest for justice, or any of their campaigns doing the same. Nor I am going to advocate their cause. Not because there’s something wrong in it; for clearly, there isn’t; but because I have come to question our very sense of morality and conception of justice.
There are several questions I have about what happened that night, and thanks to the media, there are several answers too. I will refrain from commenting on them, because by doing so I would indirectly question Keenan and Rueben’s actions, and thus, their memories. What I will question, is the aftermath in the public domain; which I see reposted on my Facebook wall every day.
Most of the posts say that, I could have been in their place, and therefore I should care about the cause. I agree to that.
But is that the only reason why I should care? Because someone from my social location has been wilfully and gravely caused hurt; because my existence and ideas of freedom in this city are now under threat? Or is it because my female friends (also from my social location) could bear the brunt of such callousness in the future?
If it is so, then I shall very politely refrain from expressing my “support”. Make no mistake; I am not undermining the cause here; but the methods to act upon a cause.
For one, I think there’s something very wrong in the way we’ve all jumped on to this bandwagon. For long, and even now, the newspapers have carried one-paragraphed reports of cases, be it crimes of a sexual nature, or instances of street violence resulting in deaths and injuries. Be it rape, or dowry deaths, or child abuse, society’s response to such crimes has always been that of schematic empathy, so long as the mainstream has remained unaffected. My question is: why haven’t there been campaigns to address these issues?
Before I answer that I would like to share an example.
About six, maybe seven months back, there was a case of serial-rapes and murders of three girls in a Kurla slum. All three girls were abducted from outside their homes, raped and murdered; their bodies were discarded as one would do so for a culled animal. The Garib nagar area lived in perpetual fear for the lives of their children for nearly three months. Despite of which, the third girl’s body was found on the terrace of a police building. Mercifully, the killings stopped and a suspect was arrested. And it is commendable on part of the press that they followed the case thoroughly till it reached a somewhat conclusive end; I am not yet aware of any trial or conviction. But, while this incident may have put one isolated issue on the frontlines of public discourse, several others are relegated to one-paragraphed, correspondent reports, only to be lost in the newspapers.
Every other day there are reports of sexual offences against women, or about people being assaulted as viciously and fatally as Keenan and Rueben were. It’s not that crime has reached unmanageable proportions or that the police are not doing their job. Whatever the scenario was, it is still more or less the same. The tragic episode at Amboli was an instance where these two worlds collided, and led to a crime of the most heinous nature, condemnable by all standards of a civilised society.
But the real injustice does not lie only in this one instance, which by all means was a freak incident. The real injustice lies in our inability to see beyond our pain. We are asking for tougher laws because our shelled existence of safety and security has been shattered; because we have been exposed to the murky and treacherous waters, through which thousands thread every day, and very often, they do so under the pain of death and suffering. It’s only when our feet have been filthied that we are asking for the mud to be removed. And truth be told, we will retreat to our shelled existence once we are assured that we shall never again come in touch with such murkiness, even if it damns the people on the other side.
When the Taj and Oberoi were attacked on 26th November, a certain class of people were shocked and were forced to come out of their luxuries; precisely because these very luxuries were now under threat. The Taj became the symbol of the 26/11 terror attacks; not CST. The 26/11 attacks have had anniversaries—which were callous and hypocritical celebrations of elitism; the July 11 train blasts, or any other terror episodes, haven’t.
In a similar vein, on-going campaigns crying out for ‘Zero-tolerance’ and ‘Justice for Keenan and Rueben’ reek of upper-middle class bias and elitism. It reeks of our apathy and indifference to confront issues which do not directly affect us. There is a huge deficit in our notion of morality, and the way this notion espouses justice. And as such, by declaring our outrage in the public forum, there is a severely hegemonic move towards covering up this deficit. We profess to defend our morality by contextualising justice in a way in which it would primarily benefit us. Not that a campaign sexual harassment would not benefit a less privileged, marginalised group. But we are consecutively and conspicuously failing to address a larger question: not just about the denial of justice, but also of the lack of access to it.
The outrage and outburst regarding the vicious assault on Keenan and Rueben’s is by every means justified; but this is an outrage moulded by our class consciousness and threat perception to our way of life. More than that, what I find staggering are the posts on the Facebook page, which demand nothing short of vigilantism, bloodlust and anarchy. Such extreme reactions are not a manifestation of injustice; far from it, this is the result of severely clamped vision of society beyond our own boundaries. Many claim, they’ve been wronged; but to manipulate such motives and indeed to manufacture conscience and justice on a public forum is a condemnable act in itself.
And this demand for justice stifles another one, rendering it meaningless and unimportant: that of social injustice.