Mumbai: 19-year-old Priyanka Fernandes speaks about her horrifying ordeal on October 20, when she lost her boyfriend Keenan Santos and friend Reuben Fernandes, who stood up to some local goons who were harassing the girls in their group.
It was one of our regular evenings out, with our regular group of inseparable friends, at our regular rendezvous, just a short walk away from our homes. How could the most commonplace evening out end in such a tragedy, costing me two of my most loved friends? The fateful night of October 20 is branded in my memory, as it was then that I learnt of the ruthless ways of this world, where those who raise their voice against injustice and depravity have to pay for their creed with their lives.
Like most other city girls my age, I was enjoying the company of my friends, blissfully oblivious to the horrors that awaited us. I remember that it was about 10:30 pm, and the stretch outside Amboli Bar and Kitchen, where we had dined, was bustling with life. The nearby cafe, a regular haunt for local youth, was doing brisk business, and the doors to a political party's office, to our right, were wide open.
After dinner, we were taking a leisurely stroll, and had stopped for paan, when disaster struck. The goons who had harassed us a while ago returned with their cronies, who brandished weapons. They started brutally assaulting the guys in our group.
Screamed for help
When my friends Keenan and Reuben were being stabbed repeatedly, mercilessly, I could see at least 50 eyewitnesses, who stood like stone, unmoving and unmoved, as we screamed for help. Not one came forward to join the fray, to help us fight against a reprehensible crime.
I am proud of my friends. They did not stand by and tolerate the brazen disrespect that our assailants displayed for women. They took the blows, uncomplainingly. I am equally disappointed with God's own people, who turned away, afraid that they would have to bear the brunt of a fight that was not theirs. They knew that we were fighting injustice.
10:30 pm is not an unearthly hour. There are girls in this city who work in BPOs, and return to their homes in the wee hours of the morning, when the streets are deserted. What will happen to them? Who will fight for them? Will they be slaughtered too, for offering to help? Should no one stand up to protest what is wrong?
I am grateful to the many people who have shown solidarity and support in our hours of grief. But I fail to comprehend certain things. We dined at the restaurant every week, we walked those very streets every day. But none of the restaurant employees, and not one of the local security guards came forward to help us, even though they knew us well.
When the goons came back for us, Keenan pushed me into the restaurant, and fought for my honour. He took the blows till he dropped. All the while, I kept dialing 100 on my phone, to seek help from the cops. Even when Keenan collapsed, I was still on hold. No one answered my call.
I rushed to his side. He tried to speak, but lost consciousness. His abdomen had been torn apart. We had planned our entire future together. He was building the foundations of our life together, and was about to embark to Dubai to work as a bartender. But those hopes and dreams have lost all meaning, just because some men insisted on having their way with us, and couldn't stomach the slap that they received in return. The only response they knew was of violence, so they came back with 17 other men, who brandished knives, bamboos and daggers to avenge their leaders.
The other two girls who accompanied me that night are too afraid to speak about their harrowing experience. Our lives have come to a screeching halt, and our families are still reeling from the shock. Initially, I was afraid as well. But now I have decided not to surrender to fear. I'll be strong and fearless, as that is the legacy left behind by Keenan. In all our four years together, I saw him spread joy, help the elderly and respect women.
I would always go about saying boldly that a few untoward incidents should not prevent girls from enjoying themselves. Even today, I stand by what I said. But I hope that men in the city will learn from Keenan's fearlessness, and not turn a blind eye to such situations. These goons think that they always have it their way. We should change their ideas.